Credit Card Fraud

I just had my second credit card shut down for fraud. This happened last summer when Citi Cards initiated the process by informing me that my account had been compromised. They did not give me any more information than that, but it was very little trouble for me since they waited for me to receive my new card before deactivating my old card.

Tonight Discover wanted to know whether I had made a purchase for more than twice my credit limit. I have not used the card at all since a $5 purchase a few months ago. I’d not previously heard of the business or location where the purchase was made. The physical card has been in my possession and I have no reason to suspect anyone I know.

I think that I follow the FTC‘s guidelines fairly well. I am not sure what I could have done to prevent something which seems so random.

In one way I think that this is just a normal hazard of using credit cards and has not really hurt me. But in another way I think that it probably should not happen to me twice a year. I have no idea how I could stop it. Well, that is not quite true. Having fewer credit cards would be a very good thing. I cannot get rid of any cards right now since the only one with no ballance is also the one that I have had longest. It is not worth hurting my credit score just to eliminate one of my cards.

The Frugality of Soy Milk

Recently (as in the past three months) I’ve begun using soy milk. This is quite a change for me, as previously I would turn my nose up at anything other than whole milk. And I admit that I still don’t like the taste of soy milk nearly as much, but it isn’t something I actively dislike.

Why the switch? Well, there are a couple of reasons.

1. Health

Young has been trying to gradually wean me off of my high fat, high meat, high salt diet. (And she’s mostly succeeded.) This is merely one more step in the program. :-)

The interesting thing is that even though I still prefer whole milk, the more soy I drink, the more I like it.

2. Frugality

Surprisingly, despite the fact that soy milk is more expensive, it turns out to be the cheaper option for me.

My problem was that though I preferred whole milk, I didn’t actually use it all that often. At most, I’d have two bowls of cereal a week, and I rarely cooked with it. As a consequence, the milk would always spoil before I’d manged to use even half of it. But soy milk can last a very long time. In fact, since I’ve switched to soy, I haven’t had a single spoiled container.

I estimate that I save at least $2 each time I buy soy.

Are there any “expensive” items you buy which actually end up saving money?

Credit Card Advertising on Airline Napkins?

nwa-napkin1.jpgIs Northwest Airlines really so desperate for revenue that it needs to advertise a credit card on its in-flight napkins?

I don’t know about you, but this would make me more reluctant to fly with them in the future even if the flight was perfect (which it wasn’t). Of course, if their flights are the cheapest, I’ll probably end up doing so anyway.

Have you ever run into credit card advertising someplace you didn’t expect? Tell us about it in the comments!

On Curbing Video Game Lust


Photo by el3enawe licensed under Creative Commons

I have a problem. My problem is that even when I’m on a tight budget, I have a hard time keeping myself from spending money on the things that I really want. Not buying ice cream? Easy enough. Eating lots of inexpensive food like apples and beans? Easy. Stopping myself from buying a Wii? Hard.

I don’t play that many video games, but the few that I do bother to play I really enjoy. In particular, I’m in love with the Halo and Zelda series. But I’m on a budget. And the fact that I have neither a Wii nor an X-Box means that it wouldn’t be a matter of $50 on a game (which would still be too much). Instead it would be more like $300.

So what do I do to keep my hard earned money from exchanging itself for a game console?*

  • Keep myself away from places that talk about the latest and greatest in gadgets and gaming
  • Stay away from the software and gaming aisles in Wal-Mart
  • Recognize the fact that I only have time to play one game well at a time and that I’m already playing it (Command and Conquer 3 if you care to know)
  • Think about the fact that there are probably only a couple of games for each console that I would find worth playing

Do any of you have similar problems?

* Yes, if it happened it would be the money acting of its own accord. I would have absolutely nothing to do with it. Because, after all, I would never do such a thing knowing that Young disapproved.

Cash vs. Plastic


Photo by DCE licensed under Creative Commons

I’ve seen many personal finance sites recommend that when trying to keep a budget, you should only spend money in cash rather than using a credit or debit card. This, the common wisdom says, will help you be more aware of the amount of money that you’re spending and make you less likely to part with it. There’s just one problem. It doesn’t work for me.

When I go into a store, I almost always know what I’m going to buy. But on those rare occasions that I don’t, paying with cash is one of the surest signs that I’ll be parting with my money. The problem is this. When I spend cash, I inevitably end up with lots of smaller bills which are harder to keep track of (at least psychologically) and seem less worthy of my attention. So if I’m going through checkout with a loose $1 bill, I’m much more likely to get that pack of gum, or box of matches, or mini-lint-roller-that-I-don’t-really-need than I am if I go through with with larger bills and pay with plastic.

I don’t claim to know why it works this way for me, but it does. I consistently spend less when I use a credit or debit card than I do when I use cash.

What about you? Does plastic or cash cause you to spend more? Does it even make a difference at all?

Parents and Money – Setting an Example


Photo by Ian Koh licensed under Creative Commons

Young recently posted an entry asking those who have children (or plan to have them), how they intend to help their children learn about finances. Early Retirement Extreme gave some good common sense advice in the comments.

Very easy. Set a good example. Children will mostly imitate their parents unless the parents are completely unreasonable in which case the kids will eventually do the opposite of their parents. If nothing else, I think keeping financial matters hidden from children is a bad idea.

While this is excellent advice, I think there’s an aspect of being a good example that’s often overlooked. Even if you’re “being a good example” in the sense of doing sensible things with money, unless you make a point of actively including your children, it’s often invisible to them.

For instance, even though my parents helped me figure out finances in some ways, in most they just left me to fend for myself, assuming that I had observed what they had been doing over the years. The problem was that since finances weren’t at all interesting to me as a child/teen, even if they’d been balancing the checkbook right in front of me, I would immediately tune it out.

It seems to me that being a good example is much more than just doing the right thing when the kids are around. It also means actively showing them what it is you’re doing. What do you think?

Birthdays on Budget


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February holds both Valentine’s Day and In Debt’s birthday. I am not a fan of Valentine’s day or birthdays, but In Debt is, so that makes it worthy of thought (and- in this case- money). While I can’t post about Valentine’s day details, In Debt prefers to be in on planning for his birthday, so here are my thoughts. Do let me know if you have suggestions!

Since I will be getting my wisdom teeth taken out on In Debt’s birthday, we’ll celebrate the weekend before. I chose a Sunday so that the first activity could be Church. No, really. In Debt is not only religious, he is interested in architecture and loves beautiful old buildings. I know just the church to take him to visit.

For lunch, we will go for Chinese food. Pretty cheap, but a luxury for us at this point, and one of In Debt’s favorites. Not only does he love Chinese food, he has also missed eating in restaurants since we cracked down on finances.

After lunch we will go to some art museums. This is another one of In Debt’s favorite activities. I conveniently chose one where my student ID will get me free admission, so it will cost half as much.

As I was thinking about plans, I realized that all of this is in the area of one of In Debt’s favorite bookstores. He has not been there in over a year, but used to spend hours at a time there when he came to visit me. I don’t think that just walking around without being able to buy anything would be so much fun for him so I decided to scrap my plan for his gift and just give him $20 to pick out a book himself. Of course this will probably mean that he has to take twice as long to choose, so we’ll spend six hours in the store instead of three. But that’s okay, it will help to fill up the day without spending any more money. ;-)

Parents and Money


Photo by Joe and Sarah licensed under Creative Commons

TheHonestDollar has a post up about how personal finance is like riding a bike. It’s a great post, and the comments got me thinking about training wheels and the role of parents in how we learn to ride bikes and handle money.

I learned to ride a bike when I was around five. My parents gave me a helmet and insisted that I wear it all the time, but they did not give me training wheels. Somehow I just figured out how to ride with the help of my older siblings, and things went from there.

That is a little like the way my parents handled training their children about personal finance. They taught me to never borrow money (that’s a little bit like wearing a helmet) but they did not give me anything else in the way of suggestions about budgets or credit scores, never mind financial help once I was eighteen (so no training wheels).

Since I decided that a college degree was worth much more than being debt free in my early twenties, I guess I am rather like a five-year-old riding a bicycle without a helmet or training wheels. Falling over has not been fun, but I hope that In Debt and I will figure it out eventually!

I think that I will probably handle things differently with my children, but I am not sure whether there really is any one best way to train children about finances. For those of you with children (or plans for them in the future) how do you plan to help them learn to manage their finances?

When Spending Money Hurts Like Pulling Teeth


Photo by Conor Lawless licensed under Creative Commons

My wisdom teeth are coming out in a few weeks. In order to keep the cost around $500 instead of $1,000, I have decided to skip the IV sedation, and stick with just novacaine.

The Boy thinks that is crazy. I think that it is both reasonable and necessary, given the current state of our finances. We’ll see what I think once I’m actually in the dentist’s chair though!

A Frugal Breakfast


Photo by monkeyone

Under current circumstances, there are only a couple of expenses that can really be controlled. First among those is food.

As in most areas, I would previously spend money on what I wanted without giving it a second thought. To help save money, as well as to help me be more conscious about spending, I’m trying to keep my food expenses under $100/month. I’ve never actually tracked my food expenses before, but I know that in the past it has been more than that. (Primarily due to fast food.)

So, with a goal of $100 a month, that means I can average a little over a dollar per meal, though less than that is good.

One of my standard breakfasts recently has consisted of one bagel, one apple, and one orange. Let’s see how that adds up.

Oranges are $0.33 each. Apples are $4.88 for a bag of 13. Bagels from the sale rack are about $1.15 for a bag of 4 or 5. So…

$0.33 = Orange
$0.38 = Apple
$0.29 = Bagel (assuming 4 per bag)

That brings the grand total for my standard breakfast to exactly $1.