Don’t Get Bit by Snakes

snake-bite

I know what you’re thinking. What are snakes doing on a Christian Finance blog? Well, there’s a saying that says that if you play with snakes, you’ll get bit. Dave Ramsey even uses it to describe credit cards.

Well, I’ve got a great “bit by snakes” story for you. As many of you know, I’m on schedule to be completely debt free by next month. I’m still on schedule, but I hit a setback a couple days ago.

As many of you also know, I’ve been doing “credit card arbitrage” where I use 0% balance transfers and earn interest on the cash while using the cash to make payments. I don’t do this anymore, but I used a 0% balance transfer to pay off a student loan about a year ago and I made payments to a savings account to have the amount in a year so by the time the 0% was due, I would have the cash to pay it off. People can do the same thing with cheap home loans, especially when the rates are this low!

Before last week, I never had a late payment in my life. But I played with snakes and got bit! When I set my online bill payment for the credit card, I looked at the next statement date instead of the payment due date and so the payment was late. When I realized what I’d done, it was too late.

I checked my credit card account online today and almost passed out! My account “went into default” with one late payment and my interest rate shot up to 25.99% even though it was still under the one year 0% special. They also charged me a $39.00 late fee and a finance charge of $89.25!

This really wasn’t a surprise to me since credit card companies can do practically anything they want because their agreements (that you signed when you got the credit card) allow them to. So I decided to give them a call. Sometimes you can get a lot accomplished with one phone call.

To make a long story short, I got the CSR (customer service rep) to waive the finance charges and late fee and also reduce the interest rate from 25.99%! I actually was amazed at how easy it was. All I had to do was ask a few questions about the charges and then simply ask if they could be waived. It took maybe five minutes!

I’m glad I got those fees waived, but I’m still going to pay off the credit card tomorrow. This was too close for comfort and I don’t feel comfortable carrying a balance when I have the cash to pay it off. I will never use credit cards again. Lesson learned. I hope you will learn from my experience. God bless!

Post Updated November 12, 2012

The Top Three Worst Mistakes in Job Hunting

Now more than ever, throngs of people are out of work and searching for their next source of employment. With such fierce competition for the few available jobs, it’s important for individuals to stay at the top of the masses if they hope to be successful. While there are many resources that can tell a job hunter how to search for a job, it’s just as important to know what not to do.

Failing to Network

Many job seekers search for jobs almost exclusively in online job postings. This is roughly the equivalent of limiting yourself only to the classifieds section of the newspaper.

Most companies do not post their job openings online, and the ones that do may not be the kind of efficiently run companies you want to work for. A company that has time to wade through a sea of emails from thousands of interested applicants for each position may be in the habit of wasting time. In addition, each applicant’s chances of getting hired are slim given the number of applicants, and the process is likely to be long and drawn out while the employer processes the mountain of resumes.

Online postings represent a tiny share of the job market. The vast majority of jobs are “hidden”, or not publicly advertised. This is especially true for jobs in the public sector such as special education programs or elementary school teachers. Employers want to hire someone they know they can trust, so they prefer to hire people that are recommended to them by their own human networks. Becoming a part of as many of those networks as possible through friends, family, and professional contacts can make you a player in that market.

Failing to Proofread the Resume

Your resume is, in effect, you…condensed into a piece of paper. A resume contains, or should contain, everything about an applicant that is relevant to the employer’s interests. Having a polished resume is essential to being invited to an interview. Many hiring managers will throw a resume in the trash at the first sighting of a typo. Not taking a little extra time to proofread a relatively short document that could determine the future of your career and finances is a sign that you don’t really care. The employer will assume that if hired, you would show the same level of dedication in your work.

Not Knowing who You’re Applying to Work For

As important as it is to create a concise, polished resume to help the employer find out about you, it’s equally important for you to find out about them. When you interview for a position, an employer will ask you a number of questions, many of which will revolve around your value to the company if hired. An employer wants to know what you’re worth to the company. He wants to know what you’ll do and how you’ll contribute to the organization’s mission and goals. If you have only a vague idea of what the company actually does or what the open job involves, your answers to these questions will be less than impressive.

It’s essential to put your best foot forward in today’s job market. By avoiding these common pitfalls, you have a much better chance of wowing an employer and getting a job.

Education-Colleges.com works to provide information and resources for those seeking teaching careers, matching them with schools that can provide education training such as an early childhood education degree.

Don’t Get Ripped off Buying a Car!

ripoffcarloan

This really makes me mad! I have lost respect for most car sales people (yes, there are woman car sales people). I get a phone call on Friday from a younger coworker of mine asking if she could use me as a reference. I asked her “for what” and she said that she needed five references to buy a car.

Now this is a young single mother of two who doesn’t have a car. She took off work and a friend of hers dropped her off with her kids at a car dealership. She had never bought a car before. Bad idea from the start. The salesman could smell the desperation a mile away.

So I asked her a few questions since I knew she was going to get taken. She had no clue. She didn’t know how much the car was, the interest rate of the loan, length of the loan, etc. All she knew was the payment. $289 a month. Oh sure, I can afford that! Classic sales tactic. Focus on the payment rather than the total cost.

She must have asked the salesman these same questions since she didn’t have a clue. I could hear the salesman in the background giving her the answers. The car was $5900. Ok, that’s not too bad. 48 months. Ok, still not too bad. But get this: 23% interest rate! I thought the salesman was kidding at first. Nope. Serious as a heart attack. I could hear him telling her that it would build her credit, that she could trade it in for something else in a year, etc. Well, she just got ripped off. $289 for 48 months comes out to a whopping $13,872. That’s more than two times the original price of the car.

I told her not to sign anything and that I’d pick her up. Despite telling her that she was getting ripped off and that it was a horrible deal, she would not listen. She hung up on me and proceeded to buy the car. I have absolutely no respect for anyone who would take advantage of a young single mother who was so desperate like this coworker of mine. It should be illegal to prey on people like this. But stupid isn’t illegal. And some people learn the hard way.

So here are some tips so you don’t get ripped off:

1. Don’t get car fever or fall in love with a car.
2. Bring someone with you who can be your advocate (at least someone who has experience buying a car).
3. Do some research. A little homework goes a long way.
4. Don’t focus on the payment. Focus on the total cost.
5. Know what you’re signing. The terms, price, payment, interest rate, etc.
6. Bring your own financing. Having options empowers you. If you already have a pre-approved car loan, you can use it or have the dealer try to beat it. Or better yet, just pay cash.
7. Know your rights and maintain your walk-away power. Remember, that if it starts getting high pressure or if you get uncomfortable, walk away. You’ll always have another chance to buy a car. Don’t get sucked into the sales and marketing pitches.

Interview with Liz Weston and Pay Yourself First Challenge Winner

Here are a couple interviews with financial expert and columnist Liz Pulliam Weston and Pay Yourself First Challenge winner Kristen Shaul.

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1. First of all, congratulations on winning! You definitely accomplished much and I commend you and your husband. What was the hardest part of the whole experience? And the easiest?

The hardest part would have been finding a balance between cutting our expenses and going too far sacrificing small pleasures that add value to our life. On top of that, it was difficult creating a system where both Michael and I had a small fund that we could spend out of guilt free. After a couple months of tension we found a solution that both bolstered our savings, while allowing each person to spend on whatever they liked without feeling like they were taking from the family budget.

The easiest was finding alternative revenues on the side. Especially in those early months of the competition (the fall of 2008), the local economy in Omaha was still very strong. Add to that an integrated network in the community through Michael’s family, and we found it easy to find ways to earn extra cash. Although the jobs themselves required hard work, the opportunities were plentiful.

2. I’ve read on your blog about your giving. How has faith played a role in your finances and your choice of career?

Our relationship with GOD through JESUS is the foundation of our life. We chose our path in this world based upon our understanding of GOD’s heart for the nations through the Bible, as well as personal experiences we have had which burdened us to give our lives to HIM through missions. Following JESUS affects both the large decisions in our life (career path), as well as the everyday choices we make (having a family budget, impulse buying, finding the highest yield savings account, etc.). Everything that we have is HIS, we are simply administering it for a short time. We want to honor HIM in our administration.

3. How has living in another country changed your perspective on life? On the United States?

On a heart level, living in a developing country has broken us with the reality that so many live in poverty. So many people around the world live in hardship, without opportunities to live the ‘good life’ so many take for granted. This has changed the ways in which we see money, time, and investing ourselves. The reality is there is a lot of injustice out there. No perfect formula exists by which we can measure acceptable spending versus selfish spending, but our hearts have led us personally to minimize what we consume on ourselves, and maximize what we can do for underprivileged peoples. While the United States gives more aid than any other country, we still see wasteful consumption all around. Our take is most people just don’t realize what the world is out there. Because both Michael and I grew up in the United States we understand the normalcy that our culture teaches towards self-centered living. Many of us were taught that way, it’s something that has been passed down for generations, making it not completely our fault. We were privileged to have the opportunity to go and see ourselves what it’s like to. And it changed our life. But facts are facts: the US is the richest country in the history of the world, and billions of people are barley getting by.

We believe that we have been blessed so that we can bless others. Our lives should be a conduit of blessing. If we are faithful in what we have been given, GOD will continue to increase HIS blessing to us in order to reach more and more people. For those of us who are so fortunate to have been born in the States, we have a responsibility to do well with what we have. To him that has been given much, much will be expected. And we have found it is a joy doing it!

4. You seem to have a great relationship with your husband. What would be your best piece of advice to newlyweds?

Create the time and the space necessary to adjust to married life. Don’t go crazy with work schedules; instead maximize your time together. Learn to very open, and very honest with each other. Fluid communication is key in the beginning of marriage (not the mention the rest of it!). Discover those little things that you can both enjoy doing together. And finally, keep things simple, and keep love the center.

5. And finally, who is the role model who has made the biggest impact on you?

There has been a lot of people who I have looked up to over the years, it’s hard to pick just one. But someone who sticks out would be a woman named Kathryn Wilson. Her and her husband Thomi have been involved in missions (both local and abroad) for years. They did it well while raising a family of five kids. When I began doing missions work as a youth, they were my first leaders, and for years Kathryn took me under her wing. She taught me to believe in who GOD made me to be, to serve like CHRIST, and to work hard. I owe a lot of who I am today to her.

Check out Kristen’s personal blog and consider helping her and her husband’s ministry.

liz headshot

1. Liz, being a widely read personal finance writer, what’s the single best piece of advice you can give given the economic climate that we’re in right now?

Remember: This too shall pass. We can’t know the exact shape the future will bring, but we know things always change, and every economic cycle in the past has eventually worked itself out. This one is no different.

2. As this is a Christian based blog, what role do you think faith can play in finances?

I think gratitude should play a role in everyone’s finances. We can give thanks for all that we’ve been given by sharing with others.

3. What advice can you give someone who is out of a job and is desperately searching for one but doesn’t seem to making any progress?

Make a list of everyone you know-and I mean everyone, from your grade-school buddies to your coworkers at every one of your previous jobs to people you know from church to your relatives-and let them know you’re looking. Many people find jobs through their “weak” links or the people they don’t know that well. In other words, the co-worker from three jobs ago may be more likely than your best friend to find you your next job.

4. How important is an emergency fund especially now?

Money in the bank has always helped you sleep better at night, and it’s particularly important now as more people are lose their jobs and stay unemployed longer.

But you still have to coordinate an emergency fund with your other priorities. If you still have a job and aren’t facing an immediate layoff, I wouldn’t stop saving for retirement or halt your credit card repayment plans to build up your emergency fund. It’s tough, but you need to make progress on all fronts.

5. And finally, being so knowledgeable on finances, who or what has made the greatest impact on your financial education and what do you think every high school or college student should know about money?

My mom. She believed in saving for a rainy day, avoiding debt, investing for the long term and sharing with others. If we could convince every graduate to save at least 10% of their incomes, pay their credit card bills in full every month, invest for retirement starting with their first job and give regularly to charities, then most money problems would be a thing of the past.

Liz Pulliam Weston is the most-read personal finance columnist on the Internet and writes for MSN Money and several newspapers including the L.A. Times and others. She has also authored several books on personal finance. Check out her website or follow her on Twitter.

5 Ways to Save Money and the Earth!

greenearth

Did you know that today is Earth Day? In honor of today, I’m going to outline some ways to go green and save some green, too! I believe that going green is biblical. Yes, you heard that right.

The Bible talks about being good stewards on this earth. That means making sure that we’re not wasteful and being good stewards of this planet that God has given to us to take care of.

1. Save Energy

I have CFL’s (compact fluorescent light bulbs) throughout my entire house. If you haven’t made the switch yet (shame on you), buy CFL’s and replace when your regular bulbs burn out. They may be a little more expensive but they last longer and use less electricity than regular light bulbs. So you’ll save money in the long run and help the environment!

Turn off lights when not in use and consider unplugging unused electronics when not in use. These will suck electricity even when they’re turned off. Or you could just plug things into a power strip and turn that off when not in use.

How about setting your thermostat a few degrees higher in the summer and a few degrees lower in the winter? That will save on your energy bill and you probably won’t even notice the difference! Almost in the same vein, adjust your water heater lower. It will save you money and you probably won’t notice as well.

2. Save Water

Install low-flow toilets, shower heads, and even faucets to save on that water bill. Consider getting energy-efficient appliances that use less water (like washing machines). It’ll save you money in the long-run and you could qualify for some state-specific tax breaks.

You could set your sprinkler system to water your lawn earlier in the morning so the water doesn’t evaporate quickly. Here’s an easy one. Take shorter showers! That’ll save you some money!

You could also skip out on bottled water and use a water filtration system in your refrigerator or something like a Brita pitcher. Bottled water costs $8 per gallon if you pay $1.25 for a 20 oz bottle! And we’re complaining about the “high” cost of gas! Bottled water is also not necessarily healthier than from the tap.

3. Save on Gas

Consider walking/biking/carpooling/public transporting (is that even a word?) to work or school. This will save you money on gas and possible parking costs as well. An added benefit could be getting some much needed exercise, too! You could ask (convince) your boss if you could telecommute a day or two a week if you can do your job at home, too.

Here’s a good one: learn how to drive! Quick acceleration and hard braking will reduce your gas mileage, not to mention add wear and tear to your brakes and tires. Slowing down will also increase your gas mileage.

4. Be a Smart Shopper

Stop and think before you buy! Do you really need this or can you live without it? Sleep on it. That’s what I do. Consider buying used instead of new. Browse craigslist or freecycle to see if you can find someone who’s giving away stuff that you want or need. Borrow if you can (go to the library to check out books and movies).

Share with your neighbors! If you rent a movie, why not let your neighbor borrow it before you return it? I know this one’s hard since nobody knows their neighbors anymore.

Comparison shop. Don’t just take their word for it. Just because they say it’s on sale, doesn’t mean it’s the best price or value. Just because they’re going out of business (think Circuit City) doesn’t mean the stuff’s a good deal! Do your homework!

5. Recycle!

I’ve always lived a lifestyle of recycling. My dad taught me to recycle aluminum cans, plastic, glass, paper, etc. at an early age. Not only are you going to help the planet, you’ll make a little cash, too!

Don’t create so much trash! There are some countries in the world where there’s not enough space for landfills and it’s a crime to throw too much stuff away. Don’t use plastic or paper goods (plates, cups, etc.) if you don’t have to. Use those real dishes. That’s what the dishwasher is for!

 

Well, hopefully you’ve got some great ideas on how to save the planet and some cash, too! God bless!