Fun Find: What’s Your Favorite Girl Scout Cookie?

A few weeks at a nearby shopping center, back on a bitter cold day (haven’t there been a lot more of those this year), we saw a group of girls (and a couple of adults) huddled in front of a table. They were, of course, selling Girl Scout cookies.

We hadn’t gotten any yet this year so we decided to purchase a couple of boxes.

I found this a very interesting news article that chronicles some of the highlights of Girl Scout Cookies over the years, and how they’ve grown to an integral part of our culture.

My favorites are Thin Mints.  What are your favorites?  Drop a comment and let us know.

Have a great weekend!

Why I Haven’t Started Exercising Yet

I have an exercise bike.  It’s in our new office / exercise room in the finished area of our basement.  Now that we have finished it off, added a small heater, TV, and other cool elements, there’s no excuse for me to not use it.

mb-201101runningBut I haven’t started yet.

And that’s sort of on purpose.

Why’s that?

Well, everybody makes resolutions at the beginning of the year to exercise more, lose weight, get in better shape, blah blah blah.

We’ve all heard it.  We’ve all done it.  Very, very few have actually followed through.

I think that the beginning of the year is an arbitrary time to stop exercising.  I think setting it as a big goal tied to the success of the entire year makes it a pressure filled goal that only leads to increased chance of failure.

I want to exercise.  I will exercise.  It’s just that I’m not going to do it with all the fanfare.

Besides, I’ve been getting lots of exercise with the various projects tied to getting all of our rooms ready.  As soon as that happens, I’ll start my workout program.  Chances are when I start, over half the people that resolved to do so will have already quit.

Book Review: The Spenders Guide To Becoming A Millionaire

I had the opportunity to read The Spenders Guide To Becoming A Millionaire by Ilona Dolinska-Reiser.

Ilona is a native of Poland (I’m of Polish descent so this was of immediate interest to me), and came to America as a young woman with nothing more than $10 and her suitcase. In the roughly twenty years since, she has accumulated a net worth of $1.2 million and shared her story in the book.

I enjoyed the book and thought it was a fun read. The book is divided into chapters, each with it’s own set of financial lesson. The book is very narrative with the author not only going through the main financial points, but discussing how she learned these lessons and how she applied them to her life. Along the way, she is very candid about some of the mis-steps she took along the way, and how she was able to learn from them.

Dolinska-Reiser hits many key personal finance topics, and drives the point home very well by sharing how she came to understand and cultivate what she learned. Some of the topics she covers are:

  • Making savings automatic
  • Paying yourself first
  • Achieving your goals by first defining exactly what you are hoping to accomplish (a step that seems simple but that I know many people often overlook)
  • Staying motivated not just in the short term but for the long haul

For those looking for a simple, outlined ‘how-to’ personal finance book, this probably isn’t the best read for you. For those who are looking for a unique perspective and who can learn and better relate to personal experiences, I would definitely recommend this book.

You can purchase a paperback copy or it can be purchased via e-book through the author’s website.

Disclaimer: I was provided an e-copy of this book for review.

Categories Fun

Using Annual Passes To Save Money

A couple of months ago, I wrote about how we were considering an annual membership to the zoo.

Now that a couple of months have passed, I thought it would be wise to follow up, summarize what we chose, and outline how our strategy will hopefully save us some money.

The Zoo

The Detroit Zoo is ranked as one of the best zoos in the country.  Over the past twenty years or so, they have undertaken a huge effort to make displays more ‘natural’ so that animals, while in enclosed areas, are in more of a natural setting that would mimic the ‘wild’ that they might be in if they weren’t in captivity.

It’s a fun place and it’s within a short driving distance of our home.  We had gone a couple of times in years past, but only purchased day passes.  This year, we thought with Baby Beagle getting old enough to where he really enjoys being out, that an annual pass might be a good idea.

The twelve month pass (good from the day you purchase it until 364 days later) is $69 for a family.  This includes my wife and I, as well as any children we have under the age of 18. It also includes parking costs.

The day pass breakdown is as follows: Each adult is $11, children under two (i.e. Baby Beagle) are free.  Parking is $5 per car.

So, a day trip would cost $27.  In order to re-coup the $69, we would have to go three times in the course of twelve month.

We’ve already gone twice in two weeks, so all we need is one more usage and everything after that is gravy!  Plus, I believe that some or all of it is considered a taxable donation, so we may be able to write some of this off on our taxes.  I’ll have to check with our tax guy next spring.

No brainer!

The Beach

We have employed the same philosophy for the local beach and decided to try this yet again.

Our city runs a very well maintained and safe beach.  For residents, the admission cost per family (charged by car) is pretty straightforward.  For a single admission, it’s $5.  For a one year pass, it’s $30.  This means it will take six trips to the beach to break even.

So far, we’ve only gone once, but we’re hoping to really take advantage of this if the weather cooperates.

This will be the third year we’ve used the seasonal pass.  In 2008, the weather always seemed to work in our favor and we went all the time.  I didn’t keep track, but I’d guess we probably went 20-25 times, so we got our money’s worth many times over.

Last year, I think we broke even.  We went five times (the seasonal pass was $25 in 2008 and 2009).  We found it more difficult for a few reasons:  Last summer seemed a lot cooler than normal, with more cloudy days and less days crossing over the 80 degree threshold.  We were also adjusting to having Baby Beagle, who was brand new at the time.  Finally (and maybe TMI), my wife was breast feeding and that made it harder to go out for a long day trip in those circumstances.

This year should be much better!

Bonus: Even though we typically only use this for the beach, this pass also gets us into other city parks that have sports fields, and it also gets us back into this park during the winter for ice skating once the lake freezes over adequately.  Down the road, I could certainly see us using our pass even more!

I’ll keep track of our usage and report back on how we do.  All in all, I’m pretty sure that the combined $99 will be very well spent!

Book Review: Living Trusts for Everyone

Many people are getting a handle on their finances with their day to day activities.  More people are saving money, reducing costs, and making sure that every dollar is accounted for.  Can you say that the same things hold true for your money after you die?

Properly managing your estate is the main focus of the book Living Trusts for Everyone: Why a Will is Not the Way to Avoid Probate, Protect Heirs, and Settle Estates by Ronald Farrington Sharp.

Mr. Sharp is an attorney who has dealt with setting up and managing trusts for many years.  Living Trusts for Everyone is a useful tool in understanding how trusts work, what the comparisons are to other methods of estate handling (such as a will or even doing nothing at all), who benefits from a trust, and some of the things to ensure you look out for when setting up a trust.

The book makes clear very early on that it is not meant to serve as a how-to guide to set up your own trust.  Having a properly setup and maintained trust involves many complexities which are best handled by an attorney.  Setting up a trust costs money and this book will not get you around that, but it can provide checklists, thought starters, and knowledge to ensure the money spent on setting up a trust is money spent wisely.

There are steps on how to make sure that your attorney is properly equipped to handle a trust.  While many attorneys claim to be able to handle a trust, the book illustrates the difference between those who will work with you to set up a trust that works for your situation versus those who will use boilerplate templates, and gives you advice on how to spot the differences.

As the sub-title suggests, a great deal of time is spent outlining the differences between a will and a trust.  While many people think that a will has them covered after they die, the fact is wills often cannot avoid assets having to go through probate, especially if there is property involved.  The book discusses how a trust can be more advantageous in this regard.  This is interesting material that serves to at least give the reader some key points to look for when researching the best method to have their estate handled.

Prior to reading this book, I knew very little about a trust or how they would be set up.  Now that I’ve read the book, I understand the basic elements of a trust, how, if setup properly, they can effectively manage an estate, and key elements to look out for when setting up your trust.  Setting up a trust is something that I would like to do someday, and this book is an excellent primer for anybody thinking about estate planning and who might be wondering if a trust is good for them.

Living Trusts for Everyone is 160 pages long, and is organized into small, concise chapters that walk you through the basic elements of a trust.  It is published by Allworth Publishing and is available in paperback form for a list price of $14.95.

Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of this book for review.

Categories Fun

Was This Fraud Or Plain Bad Cash Management? Does It Matter?

Many news outlets reported a Pennsylvania couple that is now in jail because they spent a $175,000 bank error. Essentially the bank credited them $177,250 for a $1,772.50 error. By the time the bank traced the missing money to the couple, the money was in the process of being spent, and the couple was arrested.
Their answer to the charge: They didn’t realize it was an error. According to the wife, her husband often deposited large checks due to his profession (roofer) and so they thought it was normal.
I have a hard time believing that you wouldn’t notice this as maybe a little unusual. After all, I doubt that the husband was putting a new roof on the Taj Mahal, in which case maybe the amount would be justified.
Still, it got me to thinking. What if they REALLY didn’t know it was an error?
Could you imagine how bad your cash flow management would have to be to not realize that you had $175,000 more than you were supposed to have. The thought alone makes me shudder!
Think about that. You would have absolutely no idea how much money you had at any given time. I can’t even imagine that.
After all, my personal story to this regard comes about four years ago. I was let go from a job, but the imagine my surprise when the company kept direct depositing paychecks into my account! I noticed it within hours of the deposit. I contacted them and let them know the error. They actually kept making deposits for three pay periods. I was never tempted to spend it and I let them know every time that I was still collecting paychecks even though I wasn’t working there.
Finally, they came and asked me to send them the money. I actually used the fact that I had notified them promtply and repeatedly to negotiate an agreement where I got to keep a portion of the money for my ‘troubles’.
Still, the point is that I couldn’t possibly imagine being taken by surprise by this situation, let alone one that resulted in an ‘extra’ $175,000 appearing in my account.

Categories Fun