Wide Open Wallet

An honest look at family finances

Archive for December, 2008

Quick Tip: Cull your coupons

Quick Tip:  Sort those coupons!

I just went through my coupon drawer and about 90% of the coupons in there expired today, being the last day of the year and all.  It’s a great way to start fresh in the new year.  A nice clean and organized coupon drawer.  Let the savings begin!

Pic by: Bramus

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  • Filed under: life
  • December in Review

    Another month gone by, really another YEAR gone by!   I’m thrilled to say that December was one of my best months ever, traffic wise.  Love it!  I would like to give everyone a great big THANK YOU!!  I also had a bunch of new subscribers this month.  So hello to all my new readers!  Glad to have you on board.

    Here were the 10 most popular posts of the month:

    10 Holiday Budget Busters
    10 Tips to get your house sold
    Ingvar Kamprad: The founder of IKEA
    Gift Cards at Costco
    Warren Buffett
    Rate Cuts: What does it mean?
    Don’t let the news replace your reality
    My Gallons
    What the Government should be doing in a recession
    A Trip to Costco

    Here are my top 10 referrers for December:

    Living Almost Large
    The Frugal Duchess
    No Debt Plan
    No Credit Needed
    Master Your Card
    Frugal Dad
    Not the Jet Set
    Ultimate Money Blog
    Mighty Bargain Hunter
    Remodeling This Life

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    Debt reduction for 2008

    Ok, so I admit that debt reduction isn’t on the top of my list of things to do.  I mean, it IS, but not like a lot of bloggers.  While I think it’s very important, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it.  It’s basically on auto pilot, I pay my payments plus a set amount extra and that’s that.

    But even so it’s great to look back to see how much it’s gone down over the year.  So here we go…

    Total payments Amount Paid Off Interest
    House 12,990 4,503 8,487
    Van 5,544 4,413 1,131
    Backyard 1,758 1,758 0
    Car 3,144 2,635 509
    Totals 23,436 13,309 10,127

    I guess I’m happy with that.  Obviously I wish we didn’t have so much to pay towards debt, but I’m glad over half of our payments go towards principal.  It’s crazy that we sent an extra $1,950 towards the mortgage and we still only paid off $4,503.  Wow.  It’s sad how little of your payment goes towards the mortgage balance.  That’s why I force myself to pay extra.  I just can’t stand sending all that money and having nothing to show for it.

    Pic by Morning Glory

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  • Filed under: debt
  • Thomas Edison

    Next up in the self made men series is Thomas Edison.

    Edison is considered one of the most prolific inventors in history, holding 1,093 U.S. patents in his name, as well as many patents in the United Kingdom, France and Germany. [1]  I can’t begin to talk about all of Edison’s inventions.  This post would go on forever.  I’ve barely scratched the surface but I tried to stick to his more well known inventions, the phonograph and electric lights.

    Thomas Edison was born on February 11, 1847 in Milan Ohio.  Edison had hearing loss early in childhood and became totally deaf in his teens.  This has been attributed to scarlet fever and chronic untreated ear infections.  He was quite the day dreamer in school and only received 3 months of formal schooling.  He was home schooled by his mother and has said, “My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me; and I felt I had something to live for, someone I must not disappoint.”

    His first entrepreneurial venture was selling newspapers and candy on the train.  At age 19, he got a job with Western Union but was fired when he was experimenting with a battery.  He had accidentally spilled sulfuric acid on the floor and it dripped down onto his boss’ desk.  Edison went on to invent many telegraphic improvements. His first patent was for the electric vote recorder, which was issued on June 1, 1869.  But the first invention to bring fame was the phonograph in 1877.  The first phonograph had poor sound quality and the recordings could only be played a few times.  He continued to work on it until he developed the “perfect phonograph”.  You can listen to Thomas Edison talking into a phonograph here.  I highly recommend it, it’s pretty neat.

    He eventually came up with the quadruplex phonograph which he sold to Western Union.  It allowed the transmission of 4 messages at the same time over a single wire.  He used the money gained on the sale of the phonograph to build a research lab.  It was the first institution dedicated to the advancement of technology.  Over his desk, Edison displayed a placard with Sir Joshua Reynolds’ famous quote: “There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.” [2]

    Edison and his team mostly made improvements to existing designs.  For example, he did not invent the first electric light bulb, but instead invented the first commercially practical light bulb.[3]  Previous electric lights had short lives, were expensive to produce, and drew a high amount of electricity.  But Edison and his team were able to come up with a light bulb that could be mass produced and sold to homes and businesses.  Edison’s patent used carbonized bamboo as the filament but he later bought a patent that had been issued 3 years earlier to Henry Woodward.  This patent used a carbon rod in a nitrogen filled glass cylinder.

    Edison also created a system for the generation and distribution of electricity.  The first public display of an electric lamp was on December 31, 1879.  At the time Edison said “We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles.”  In 1880, Edison started Edison Electric Illuminating Company and on September 4th, 1882 Edison switched on the electrical power distribution system and provided 110 volts of Direct Current to 59 customers in Manhattan.

    Direct Current (DC) had major disadvantages.  It could only transmit power to customers up to a mile and a half way and used thick expensive wires.  Edison employed a young immigrant named Nikola Tesla.  Edison told Tesla that he would give him $50,000 (53 years of pay) if he could improve upon his DC plants.  Tesla then discovered Alternating Current (AC).  When he asked Edison for his bonus Edison laughed and told him “When you become a full-fledged American you will appreciate an American joke.”  This upset Tesla who quit immediately.

    Tesla took his design for AC to Westinghouse which began to promote the new technology.  AC could transmit power hundreds of miles and used thin inexpensive wires.  To fight the transition to AC Edison launched a campaign against alternating current which stated that AC was too dangerous to use.  He went as far as to publicly electrocute animals to demonstrate the dangers of AC.  But his efforts were mostly in vain and AC became the current of choice.  DC is still used to power subway systems today and was used in some buildings in downtown New York City power as late as 2007.

    Thomas Edison died on October 18th, 1931 at his home in West Orange, New Jersey.  His last breath is said to be in a sealed test tube in the Henry Ford museum.

    Other Self Made Men in the series:
    Warren Buffett
    Henry Ford
    Ingvar Kamprad
    Sam Walton
    Oprah Winfrey
    Steve Jobs

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  • Filed under: profiles
  • Roundup

    Hello everyone!  I hope you had a great Christmas.  We did.  My big presents from my husband were a string of pearls, a heart necklace with diamonds, and a GPS for the van.  All of which I love.  I got my husband a big tool set of Craftsman tools and a drill.  My daughter got a digital camera.  I was worried about that since it wasn’t something she asked for, but she seemed to love it.  And my son’s favorite toy so far wasn’t even from us.  My brother in law got him a scooter and he’s been riding it everywhere he goes.  I don’t think he will ever walk again.

    But I’m taking a break from cleaning up the Christmas tornado to highlight a few of my favorite posts this week….

    Saver in the City gives some tips on writing thank you notes.

    Budgets are Sexy wrote about a little girl who wants letters for Christmas.  I know this is a bit late, but I highly doubt she will stop wanting letters just cause Christmas is over.  And it’s his birthday today so make sure you stop by and give some birthday wishes.

    Master Your Card asked if money and ethics mix.  She talked about paying for or selling college papers.  She even mentioned she saw someone looking to buy a term paper on ethics.  LMAO!  I love irony.

    Brip Blap asks “Who watches the watchmen?“  Good Question.

    Yielding Wealth talked about an interesting trend in the drop of State Lottery sales.  Weird.  I would think in hard times ticket sales would go up.

    Ok, guys… now back to cleaning!!

    pic by: Williac

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  • Merry Christmas!!

    I hope everyone is having a great holiday!

    How did you spend your holiday?  Good or bad I want to know.  Did Uncle Mike get drunk?  Did the ham fall on the floor?  Was your gift for Aunt May a huge hit?  Are you Jewish?  Come on, share your holidays stories here.  Leave a comment… consider it my Christmas present!

    pic credit: Randy Glasbergen

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  • Filed under: life
  • The Christmas Budget

    Alrighty, you better have your shopping done by now.  I do.  Which means I can look back and see how we did on our Christmas budget.  I have to say I’m pretty happy.  We came in $22 under budget. Yeah… UNDER budget.  It’s the most beautiful $22 I’ve ever seen.

    Grand total: $1,377 (Why we had $1,399 budgeted and not an even $1,400 I’ll never know)

    Here’s the breakdown…
    Me: $200
    Husband: $200
    Son: $200
    Daughter: $193
    First Brother in law and wife: $81
    Niece and nephew: $79
    Mother in law: $50
    Second brother in law and wife: $75
    My parents: $44
    Sister in law: $50
    Wrapping paper and Christmas cards: $24
    A December birthday: $22
    New tree: $159

    Now, I will say that some money from our regular monthly budget did get spent on Christmas and I didn’t count that.  For example, we each get $200 a month as our personal spending money.  I know I spent some of my personal money on presents for my husband and I’m sure he did the same.   It’s just life.  I would love to be able to tell you to the penny how much Christmas cost us… but for the sake of my sanity I can’t keep track that closely.   Either way, I’m happy that we stayed in budget.

    How did everyone else do?  What were your totals?

    pic by: scottfieldstein

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  • Filed under: life
  • I have a job

    Well, I got job on Friday.  I bet you weren’t expecting that were you?  I wasn’t either.   Here’s how it happened….

    Before this school year started I was thinking of maybe taking a daycare kid before and after school.  I mean, I’m already getting a kid on and off the bus everyday, it seems like a fairly simple way to make some extra money.  What really stopped me is the after school thing.  By the time my daughter gets home, my husband is home from work, and it’s just chaotic.  A lot of times I have errands to run and stuff to do and really I don’t feel like adding another kid to the mix.  Plus, if the parent doesn’t get off work til five then the kid won’t leave until six and that is way too late.  I don’t think I could handle it.

    Last Friday I walked out to the bus stop, which is pretty much directly in front of my house, and there is a new mom.  And yes, our bus stop is so typical, the moms stand in a little group and gossip.  So I walk up and the other mom introduces me to the new mom, she tells me that they just moved into the neighborhood and is looking for someone to watch her son before school and get him to the bus.

    I mean if the job is going to literally come to my front door then how can I turn it down?  It’s something I’ve been thinking about doing anyways, and there isn’t any after school stuff.  Just an hour before school.  I should be able to handle that.  The only change to my routine will be that I have to get up 20 minutes earlier than I do now.  Which if you know me then you know its a big deal.  But hey, it’s only 20 minutes, right?

    She is going to pay me $25 a week and $10 extra on half days, since I will also have him from 12:30 to 3:00 those days.   I think it’s worth $100 a month, and it helps out a neighbor.

    pic by: wheany

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  • Filed under: career
  • Sam Walton

    Here we are, in the throes of Christmas and a recession, and the only retailer who is sitting pretty is Walmart.  So I’m naturally curious about the man who started the nation’s only recession proof retailer.  So for today’s edition of the Self Made Man series is Sam Walton.

    Sam Walton was born on March 29th, 1918 in Kingsfisher, Oklahoma.  Growing up he had many chores around the family farm, including milking the cow and bringing the milk to customers and a newspaper route.  He was voted “Most Versatile Boy” in his high school yearbook.

    After high school he attended University of Missouri and majored in economics.   He worked his way through school by doing odd jobs and waiting tables for meals.  Three days after graduation he started working for J.C. Penny in management, making $75 a month.  In 1942, he quit this job in anticipation of serving in the military.  While waiting to be called to service he met his wife, Helen Robson.  They married on Valentines day 1943.  He served in the U.S. Army Intelligence Corps providing security for airplane plants and prisoners of war.  He reached the rank of captain.

    In 1945, after leaving the military, he purchased a Ben Franklin variety store franchise in Newport Arkansas.  He used $5,000 he had saved from his military work and borrowed $20,000 from his father in law to purchase the store.  He pioneered the practice of discount merchandising by buying wholesale goods from the lowest priced supplier. This allowed him to pass on savings to his customers, which drove up his sales volume. Higher volumes allowed him to negotiate even lower purchase prices with the wholesaler on subsequent purchases. [1]  This made Walton’s store the most successful Ben Franklin variety store in a six state area.  The enormous success caused the landlord not to renew Walton’s lease, because the landlord wanted to give the store to his son.

    Walton then opened Walton’s Five and Dime in Bentonville Arkansas and was wildly successful.  He then opened another store in Fayetteville but this store struggled.  Sam knew that he needed a great manager to turn this store around.  So, he said, ” I did something I would do for the rest of my run in the retail business without any shame or embarrassment whatsoever: nose around other people’s stores searching for good talent” [2]  He hired Willard Walker, the manager of a local variety store, by enticing him with a percentage of the store’s profits.  This is now known as profit sharing.

    Before Sam Walton came on the scene variety stores would have cash registers placed in each section.  If a customer wanted to buy five items from five different areas then the customer would have to check out five times.  Sam Walton moved all the checkouts to the front so the customers could pay for all their items at the same time.  He also provided baskets for customers to carry their selections in, and bags at the check out to carry their purchases home.

    The first true Walmart opened in 1962 in Rogers Arkansas.  Kmart, Target, and Woolworth also opened that same year.   Sam Walton grew his sales and stores at an alarming rate.  He would scout out prospective store locations in a low flying plane.  To maximize potential customers he would look for locations that were between several towns.  When he would find the perfect spot he would land his plane, buy the property, and set up shop. [3]  He also used that plane to check on existing Walmarts.  He would fly overhead and make sure the parking lots were full.

    Walton knew that he couldn’t maintain the expansive growth he wanted without computerizing his company.  So in 1966 he went to an IBM school with the goal to hire the smartest guy in the class.  Wal-Mart went on to become the icon of just-in-time inventory control and sophisticated logistics — the ultimate user of information as a competitive advantage. Today Wal-Mart’s computer database is second only to the Pentagon’s in capacity. [4]

    It wasn’t until 1985 when Forbes magazine named Sam Walton the richest man in America that Sam Walton came into public consciousness.  Until then, most had never heard of him.  Soon after he began to receive blame for the disappearance of small town America.  Sam Walton thought those claims were absurd, as he had started as a small town merchant and he believed that small merchants could compete if they would make the changes they needed to do so.

    Sam Walton died April 5th, 1992 from cancer.  He left his fortune to his wife and 4 children.  They went on to hold 5 spots of the top 10 richest people in America until 2005.

    Other Self Made Men in the series:
    Warren Buffett
    Henry Ford
    Ingvar Kamprad
    Thomas Edison
    Oprah Winfrey
    Steve Jobs

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  • Interview with No Debt Plan

    No Debt Plan is about getting and staying out of debt with a plan. Kevin, the author, is passionate about budgeting, saving for the future, and using goals to reach financial freedom.  You can subscribe to his blog by RSS or email.

    This is the fourth Subscriber Swap Saturday that Kevin has run.  The basic idea is to get the subscribers of one blog to subscribe to the other blog for at least a week, just to try it out.  After a week if you don’t find that blogger’s content enticing, drop it.  The hope is that over time you will find several writers that you weren’t familiar with that provide meaningful content to you.  (You can read more about Subscriber Swap Saturday at his blog.)

    “How do you handle money differences in your marriage?  What advice would you give to a couple that is having financial disagreements?”

    First, it really pays off to be on the same financially. Doing that alone wipes out a majority of the arguments we might have. If we do run into something that we each don’t agree on — and it’s been a while — we sit down and talk it over. We also avoid arguments on our own spending through a budget technique. At the beginning of the month we each get 2% of of the previous month’s total income to spend or save as we see fit. She can go buy clothes or dog toys, I can buy car and computer parts. Neither of us can say anything to the other about disagreeing with the purchase. Harmony ensues.

    “What is your biggest struggle financially?

    Probably worrying too much about finances. I’m not a spender, and I’m pretty good at setting goals if I do decide I want to buy something. But I do spend quite of bit of time checking and re-checking everything to make sure we are still on track.

    “What if you could change one financial choice in your past, what would it be?”

    Other than saving a larger portion of the money I earned in high school (compounding interest, hooray!)? My parents gave me a decent sized chunk of money when I graduated college to be used as a down payment on a home. I stupidly invested the money in a mutual fund and 10-15 individual stocks. The amount of risk I took in that move is just amazing. A very dumb move. Thankfully I ended up making roughly a 7% return, but I was extremely lucky. I should have left it in a savings account or something like that.

    “What would you do if you found $100,000 in a paper bag in the gutter?”

    Fly to the nearest casino and take a huge bet that would pay off double… wait, no. I would probably take it home and do research on my legal options. I think if you turn something like that in to the police, if no one provides a verifiable claim of the item within 30 days, it is yours. I’d love to keep it in the end, but I would want to do it the “right” way.

    Well, I hope you enjoyed my interview.  Please take a moment and subscribe to Kevin’s blog.  You won’t be sorry, he has a lot of great posts.  If after a week you don’t agree with me, then cancel.  Oh, and make sure you head over to his site and check out my answers his interview questions.

    Pic by: ChristofferEngstrom

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  • Filed under: interview
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