Showing posts with label finance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label finance. Show all posts

23 October 2013

Yes, you can buy cabinetry online

Say you’re working with a design-only designer on a kitchen renovation. Say that said designer puts together a plan to end all plans. A plan that takes efficiency and good taste to levels previously unimagined. Then what?

Since the lion’s share of kitchen design involves cabinetry, what do you do with a set of completed plans? How do you get from paper to a room you can cook in?

Well, one really simple way is by taking the plans you have and generating a list of components if your designer hasn't done that already. With that list you can go to a website like Cliq Studios, and place an order. There are a number of websites out there that’ll allow you to fulfill a cabinet order. A few more such sites are The Cabinet Factory, Kitchen Resource Direct and Kitchen Cabinet Depot. If you’re a homeowner buying cabinetry for the first time, each of those sites have staffed, toll-free numbers to hold your hand through the process.

These sites are set up to allow just about anyone to order semi-custom cabinetry. You choose the components you need in the dimensions you need them from an interactive catalog, just about the same way any industry professional does.

Ordering cabinetry is complicated but it needn't be overwhelming. There are a lot of parts to consider and to take into account but if your needs aren't too complex and you’re diligent in your approach, ordering cabinetry online may be the answer you’re looking for.

Explore the sites before you make a final decision though. Look for testimonials and look for details and descriptions about how the cabinetry’s constructed. Check to see where the cabinetry’s manufactured and for how long it’s warranted. Buying online is like buying anywhere. Ask a lot of questions and kick the tires as best you can before you take a leap.

Many online suppliers sell what are called RTA cabinets. RTA means flat-packed and ready to assemble. Be sure you’re up to the added labor if you buy RTAs and if the site doesn't define that term clearly, don’t buy from there. Similarly, look for details about the types of hardware used for hinges and drawer guides. If that information’s not listed on the site, call the 800 number. Good value kitchen cabinetry isn't just in the finish. It’s the hardware used that makes them last.

See too if they have a sample ordering program and what if any the charge is to get samples. Seeing color accurately on the internet is impossible, absolutely impossible and you have to see the actual product if you’re going to get an accurate preview of how things will look in your home. Again, if the site you’re on doesn’t have samples available or if they charge you for them, leave that site.

As you navigate the sites, look for endorsement logos from other entities. Such entities as HGTV and DIY Network don’t let fly by night organizations use their logos and only legitimate suppliers can be members of the NKBA.

Some sites have budgeting tools that will help you in your planning too. This tool from Cliq Studios is particularly helpful. Use budgeting tools as you plan and to help you keep a handle on costs as you move ahead on your project.

If you’re a design-only designer have you ever recommended an online resource to your clients? And if you’re a homeowner, have you ever used one of these suppliers? In either case, how was your experience? What advice do you have for someone who’s considering an online cabinetry purchase? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear some stories.

01 October 2013

The Affordable Care Act and you

It's here at long last. Though the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has been the law of the land since March 23, 2010 today marks the day when most people will notice the sea change it ushered in. Despite the fact that one of our political parties has been having a tantrum about it since the presidential election of 2008, despite that same party's willingness to shut down the Federal Government and sabotage the economy rather acknowledge the fact that Barack Obama is the President and despite the fact that same party's been hijacked by it's own lunatic fringe, the health insurance marketplaces are open for business.

So what does that mean precisely? Well with the help of Fran Berkman at Mashable and the Kaiser Family Foundation, here's a breakdown.

Whether or not you agree with the country's new health care policy, you should understand how it works. Here are a few things you need to know to get started.

The law is scheduled to take effect fully on Jan. 1, 2014. You can begin shopping and signing up for plans through the online marketplace starting today but the earliest a plan will take effect is Jan. 1. The enrollment period for 2014 lasts until March 31.

For subsequent years, the enrollment period will be open from Oct. 15 until Dec. 7. With few exceptions, these are the only time periods during which you can register for plans through the online marketplace.

Technically, using the health insurance marketplaces is available to everyone lawfully living in the U.S. The online marketplace is targeted at those who do not get insurance through their employers, but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. The new law actually expands eligibility for Medicaid, and Medicaid rules vary by state. Your state's health insurance marketplace website will help you figure out whether you qualify. Alternatively, even if you do receive insurance through your employer, you can still use your state's online marketplace — though you're unlikely to find a better deal.

The "personal mandate" to have insurance means you will be charged a fee if you're uninsured for more than three months in a calendar year. The penalty, which increases each year, starts at $95 in 2014 or 1% of your yearly income — whichever is higher. If you choose to pay the fee, you do so when filing your tax returns. You may be exempt from paying this fee if you meet one of several conditions (listed here).

Residents of most states can find their online marketplace at For residents of 16 states and the District of Columbia, however, there are state-specific websites. A "Get State Information" drop-down menu sits toward the bottom of this page and will instruct you where to find information based on where you live. Again, the main website will direct you via links to anywhere you need to go to research and buy a health insurance plan.

Prepare most of your personal documents for reference, specifically financial records. Since the law varies depending on your income, you will most likely need your recent tax returns and pay stubs.

The plans are divided into four tiers based on cost and level of coverage: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. The government will subsidize your health care with a tax credit if your yearly income is less than four times the poverty level.

The health care-focused Kaiser Family Foundation created the calculator below to help you figure out whether you are eligible for subsidies.

Remember that everyone is protected equally under the new law, meaning you can't be charged more due to gender or medical history. Additionally, you cannot be denied coverage due to any pre-existing conditions and your insurer cannot drop your policy after you file a claim. Although plans vary in level of coverage, all plans must cover 10 "essential health benefits" — including ambulatory services, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance use disorder services and more. While this part of the law took effect in 2010, remember that young people can stay on their parents' insurance plans until age 26.

For more information, the Kaiser Family Foundation has a number of resources on its website, or go straight to the source by visiting

06 December 2009

Poking around the internet

I poke around the internet in a quest for inspiration and story ideas all the time. Sometimes, I find things that don't quite warrant a post of their own. Here's a handful of them.

Patricia Gray is a Vancouver, British Columbia interior designer who's idolized on both sides of the 49th parallel and with good reason.

She wrote a column about color trends and I'm happy to report that I used this palette in a bathroom design a week before I saw her post. I love being on target with a color scheme. Grey and yellow is this year's blue and brown. Believe it. From Patricia's blog:
Key colours for the Farrow & Ball Industrial 2010 Color Trends:

Farrow & Ball Down Pipe No.26
Farrow & Ball Off-Black No.57
Farrow & Ball Pavilion Gray No.242
Farrow & Ball Cornforth White No.228
Farrow & Ball Setting Plaster No.231
Farrow & Ball Orangery No.70
Farrow & Ball Babouche No.223
Farrow & Ball Blackened No.2011
Read Patricia Gray Interior Design for some fantastic guidance on color and all other aspects of interior design.

I wrote about underwater mortgages and the ethical and moral dilemmas swirling around the idea of a planned default on a bad mortgage this week. In fact, I wrote about it twice: on Sunday and on Tuesday. Those posts opened up a really great comments discussion afterward.

Dirk Shad, Times photographer

Well the whole thing was prompted by a wire story from last Saturday's St. Petersburg Times. In today's issue of the same paper, the Deputy Business Editor, Becky Bowers, wrote an essay on why she and her husband are staying put in their underwater mortgage. That she lives up the street from me and that we share a love for this neighborhood is a bonus. Thank you Becky.

My great friend Tom is a consummate Manhattanite and loves New York with a passion I envy. Tom sends me glimpses of day to day life in that great city regularly and the other day he sent me this video.

This is the Christmas display at Saks' and this video features the actual music piped into the street for this Christmas spectacular. It's no wonder tour buses carry many thousands of people to that great city every day.

Once of my Twitter pals posted a link to this brilliant column about marble as a counter material.

The blog is called The Petch House and it details the renovation of an old home. The post I'm linking to is as impassioned a defense of marble as any I've seen and he says everything I do about the stuff. It's a good read and I plan to throw it in the face of the next person who starts telling me how readily marble scratches and stains. Here's that link again. And just for good measure, here it is one more time.

Eric Schmidt is one of the founders of Google. He's also my homeboy. In yesterday's Wall Street Journal he delivered what can only be called a beat down to Rupert Murdoch and the rest of the self-immolators in print media.

I quote:
With dwindling revenue and diminished resources, frustrated newspaper executives are looking for someone to blame. Much of their anger is currently directed at Google, whom many executives view as getting all the benefit from the business relationship without giving much in return. The facts, I believe, suggest otherwise.
Bravo. Here's the link back to Eric's article. TV news people, pay attention because you're next.

I love Twitter. There I said it. It took a month of playing around with it to finally grasp what it is and six months later, Tweeting is so ingrained in my day that I can no sooner imagine the day without it as I can imagine my not blogging. Twitter also makes me nuts because it's one more thing to keep up with. Shane Nickerson is a comedian who's similarly hooked on Twitter. He's got a potty mouth and he's hilarious. Do not  play this video if the word "fuck" offends you.

F Twitter from Shane Nickerson on Vimeo.

Don't let the 140 character limit fool you. I have made some really deep connections with some great people I could have never known otherwise.

Finally, the brilliant and gracious Nancie over at Mosaic Art Now posted this gem yesterday.
Rome (AP) Italian officials have unveiled new discoveries in an ancient Roman luxury complex filled with priceless mosaics, elegant porticos and thermal baths. The 1,800 square-meter (2,000 square-yard) complex, dating from the 2nd to 4th centuries, has been excavated intermittently starting in 2004, when the ruins were accidentally discovered during renovations of a Renaissance palazzo that now stands above them. In the latest digging campaign, which began in March, archaeologists uncovered a palatial room decorated with precious marble and a colorful mosaic made with half a million tiles brought from all over the Roman Empire. The 16th century Palazzo Valentini, which sits on top of the ruins in downtown Rome, houses local government offices. The ancient complex will be open to the public from Friday through Jan. 6, before closing again for further explorations.
Get thee to Rome before January 6th. If I can get the stars to align, I'll be back in Rome in June, but I'll have missed this once in a lifetime wonder.

If you have never stood in front of an ancient mosaic or other piece of ancient art, please find a way to do so. The word awesome is horribly overused, but it's the only way to describe such an experience. Seeing ancient art is the best way I can think of to stare ancient people in the face and see a reflection of yourself staring back. Roman culture is the very bedrock of western culture and to know that frees you from the burden of thinking that you're so unique that you're alone in history. None of us is alone, we stand connected to every other human being who has ever walked the face of the earth. Our joy, our pain, our love, our lust, our strain, our suffering and our triumphs are the same as they've ever been.

Read Nancie's wonderful blog, Mosaic Art Now. It's part of the great art annual of the same name, Mosaic Art Now. Speaking of Mosaic Art Now, wait until you see what's in store in the 2010 edition. More details to come on that, believe me.

02 December 2009

One in four borrowers is underwater: now what?

According to a Wall Street Journal article from last week, 23 percent of US homeowners owe more on their homes than they are worth. That's nearly one in four, and by any measure it doesn't bode well.

Those figures reflect the 10.7 million US households that had negative equity in their homes in the third quarter of 2009. Fully half of those households, 5.3 million households have negative equity of at least 20 percent. Further, 520,000 of those borrowers are in default officially. Those numbers were compiled by First American Core Logic, a real estate information company in Santa Ana, CA.

I ran an article on Monday that was a reprint from the St. Petersburg Times and the article discussed what's becoming known as a strategic default on a negative equity mortgage. People are beginning to walk away from these so-called bad mortgages on purpose. These are not isolated instances either. According to a study conducted last year by Experian and the consulting firm Oliver Wyman; 588,000 borrowers who could afford to pay their mortgages walked away in 2008.

The US has exported its major manufacturing capabilities over the course of the last 30 years and such manufacturing as still exists, exists to serve the housing industry. That's a gross simplification of course, but it's not untrue either. So if housing is the new bedrock of our economy, how can all of this negative equity and a loosening stigma against default be anything but a bad thing?

My post on Monday spurred a really interesting series of comments, it's had me musing about ethics and morals ever since. I still maintain that the mortgage crisis, the financial meltdown and all of signs and symbols of the current recession are symptoms of a deeper problem. Such fixes as have been proposed and implemented seem to be slowing the slide into something truly horrific, but I don't think they're addressing any root causes. Chasing short term gains is what let to the current mess and throwing short term fixes at it is just paving the way for the next bubble.

So again, am I out to lunch with all of this? Is the mortgage meltdown an isolated event? I'm not in a negative equity situation mercifully but I know a lot of people are. If you are you have my sympathies and I'd love to hear what that's like. I mean that genuinely. It's easy for me to wring my hands over strategic defaults because it's not something I have to entertain. What's it like to walk in those shoes I wonder.

30 November 2009

Walk away from your mortgage? Just do it, says one professor

By Kenneth R. Harney, Special to the Times 

In Print: Saturday, November 28, 2009

WASHINGTON — Go ahead. Break the chains. Stop paying on your mortgage if you owe more than the house is worth. And most important: Don't feel guilty about it.

That's the incendiary core message of a new academic paper, "Underwater and Not Walking Away: Shame, Fear and the Social Management of the Housing Crisis," by Brent T. White, a University of Arizona law school professor.

White argues that far more of the estimated 15 million American homeowners who are underwater on their mortgages should stiff their lenders and take a hike.

Doing so, he suggests, could save some of them hundreds of thousands of dollars that they "have no reasonable prospect of recouping" in the years ahead. Plus, the penalties are nowhere near as painful or long-lasting as they might assume.

"Homeowners should be walking away in droves," White says. "But they aren't. And it's not because the financial costs of foreclosure outweigh the benefits." Sure, credit scores get whacked when you walk away, he acknowledges. But as long as you stay current with other creditors, "one can have a good credit rating again — meaning above 660 — within two years after a foreclosure."

Better yet, you can default "strategically." Buy all the major items you'll need for the next couple of years — a new car, even a new house — just before you pull the plug on your current mortgage lender.

"Most individuals should be able to plan in advance for a few years of limited credit," with minimal disruptions to their lifestyles, White says.

What kind of law school professorial advice is this? Aren't mortgages legal contracts? In an interview, White said that in so-called anti-deficiency states such as Arizona and California, mortgage lenders have limited or no legal rights to pursue defaulting homeowners' assets beyond the house itself. In other states, lenders may decide it is not worth the legal expense to pursue walkaways, or consumers may be able to find flaws in the mortgage documents, disclosures or underwriting to challenge the original contract.

The main point, he says, is that too often people's "emotions" get in the way of clear financial thinking about mortgages, turning them, as he describes, into "individuals who choose not to act in their own self-interest." Most owners are too worried about feelings of shame and embarrassment after a foreclosure, and ignore the powerful financial reasons for doing so.

Buttressing these emotions is a system that White labels "the social control of the housing crisis" — pressures and messages continually sent to consumers by the "social control agents," namely banks, government and the media. The mantra these agents — all the way to the president — pound into owners' heads, says White, is that "voluntarily defaulting on a mortgage is immoral."

Yet there is an inherent imbalance in the borrower-lender relationship that makes this morality message unfair to consumers: Banks set the rules during the housing boom, handing out home loans with no down payments, no income checks and inflated appraisals. Now that property values have dropped 20 to 50 percent in many areas, banks have been slow to modify troubled mortgages and reluctant to reduce principal debts.

Only when homeowners cut through the emotional fog and default strategically in large numbers, White argues, will this inequitable situation be seriously addressed.

How does White's 52-page manifesto go over with mortgage lenders? Predictably, not well. Officials at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — investors who fund the bulk of all new mortgages in the country — disputed White's characterization of how quickly after foreclosure a walkaway borrower can obtain a new loan. It's not three years, they said; it's a minimum of five years, absent extenuating circumstances such as medical or employment problems that caused the foreclosure.

"Borrowers who walk away from their mortgage obligations face serious consequences," including severely depressed credit scores for extended periods, said Brian Faith of Fannie Mae. In addition, he said, "there's a moral dimension to this as homeowners who simply abandon their homes contribute to the destabilization of their neighborhood and community."

Lewis Ranieri, CEO of several major mortgage-related companies and one of the pioneers of the mortgage securities industry, called White's argument "incredibly irresponsible and misinformed." Not only is the professor urging consumers to break legally binding contracts, said Ranieri, but if large numbers of them did so it would send mortgage rates soaring and "tear apart the very basis" upon which mortgage lending rests — the understanding that borrowers will honor commitments and pay back the money they owe.

Ken Harney can be reached at
This article ran in the St. Petersburg Times on Saturday, 28 November. It's a pretty controversial idea and one that doesn't sit well with me. What do you think? Are you still required to be true to your word when circumstances change? Is defaulting on a mortgage due to job loss or illness more moral than "strategically" defaulting? What would you do if this described your situation? If it does describe your situation, is a planned default something you'd consider?

31 May 2009

Support the 3/50 Project

The 3/50 Project is a nationwide, grass-roots effort to save independent businesses that were already reeling from the incursions of the Wall Marts and the Home Depots of the world before the bottom fell out of the economy. The 3/50 project is really simple.

Here's how it works.

Pick three independently-owned businesses you'd miss if they disappeared. Stop in. Say Hello and buy something. Anything. Your purchases are what keep those businesses afloat.

That's the three part. Now spend $50 a month, every month at one or each of those three businesses.

If half the employed population spent $50 a month at independent businesses, it would generate $42.6 billion in revenue. Imagine the impact if 3/4 of the employed population participated.

Something as simple as changing where you spend the money you'd spend anyhow could change the face of the landscape. Instead of complaining about the demise of mom and pop businesses, why not do something to help them stay in business?

And if you need a little more convincing, according the the US department of Labor, for every $100 spent in an independent business, $68 stays in the local economy through local taxes, payroll and other expenditures. When you spend that same $100 at Wal Mart, only $43 of it stays in your local economy.

Think about it. If you'd like to participate, just do it. If you'd like more information or if you'd like to be listed as a supporter, the 3/50 Project has a great website. Check it out and keep driving the next time you see a big box.

07 March 2009

Ikea Tampa announced an opening date

At 9am on the 6th of May Ikea will swing open its doors to an adoring Tampa public. The Tampa store will be Ikea's largest in Florida at 353,000 square feet. That is not a typo. It will also be the first Ikea location in the US with an expanded Swedish food section.

The location Tampa has been under construction for two years and those two years have been rather eventful so far as the economy in the community surrounding Ikea's new location goes.

When Ikea announced its plans to move into Florida, things were clipping along here. Construction was still booming although the cracks were starting to show. Lenders were still writing mortgages to just about anybody with a pulse and all of us in the construction and renovation industries had more work than we could handle.

But while that store was under construction, the local economy hit the wall. Greater Tampa is home to one of the highest mortgage default rates in the country and an article in the St. Pete Times this week reported that 31 percent of the mortgaged properties here are under water. That means the owners owe more than their mortgaged properties are worth. Consider that the median house price here has dropped by 50 percent in the last three years and it's not hard to see why.

Times is hard as I like to say and it's an interesting time to open a retail establishment. I wish them well, I really do. There's nothing else to compete with them here really. And maybe the answer in trying economic times is to sell cheap stuff that looks good, quality be damned. If nothing else, Ikea has health insurance benefits for even their part-timers.

But still, I'm holding out hope that from the ashes of our burning economy comes a better appreciation for value. Cheap stuff's not cheap when you have to buy it twice.

21 February 2009

Credit crisis 'splained

I haven't harped about matters financial lately, so I think it's high time that I do so now. Here's a really good video that explains what's going on with this credit freeze annoyance. It's ten minutes long, but worth the watch.

The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

06 December 2008

Wow, wrap your head around this

Last week, the gang over at Consumerist ran a short piece on the amount of money on the line for 2008's historic bailout. The numbers being bandied about are massive to the point of incomprehensibility and all of these numbers are being removed of all context in order to make the whole unseemly thing more palatable. Anyhow, Consumerist put all of it in an inflation-adjusted context and every one needs to see this. Check out this pie chart:

Mind bending. Really. Here's their inflation-adjusted breakdown:
Marshall Plan: Cost: $12.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $115.3 billion
Louisiana Purchase: Cost: $15 million, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $217 billion
Race to the Moon: Cost: $36.4 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $237 billion
S&L Crisis: Cost: $153 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $256 billion
Korean War: Cost: $54 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $454 billion
The New Deal: Cost: $32 billion (Est), Inflation Adjusted Cost: $500 billion (Est)
Invasion of Iraq: Cost: $551b, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $597 billion
Vietnam War: Cost: $111 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $698 billion
NASA: Cost: $416.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $851.2 billion

TOTAL: $3,920,000,000,000
2008 BAILOUT TOTAL AS OF NOV 2008: $4,616,000,000,000

This is being undertaken by a Republican administration. Can we please never hear the phrase "tax and spend liberal" in another campaign?

19 November 2008

What on earth is in my FICO Score anyway?

My car insurance premium just went down. It was a nominal decrease, but I'll take what I can get. I called my insurer just to make sure that it wasn't a mistake and the customer service rep chirped that my FICO had gone up and my rates dropped accordingly. I still fail to understand the connection between my credit rating and my car insurance rates, but I'm sure there's an actuary somewhere who can prove that the two things are related. And I'm equally sure that when presented with this evidence I'll dismiss it. Anyhow, the whole thing got me thinking about the FICO thing.

I know what my number is, but I still don't know what it means or how it's derived. Well, enter my pal Ben Popken and Consumerist again. He ran a story on Monday with this pie chart:

He found it on a website called Check it out.

This is from

Payment History
  • Account payment information on specific types of accounts (credit cards, retail accounts, installment loans, finance company accounts, mortgage, etc.)
  • Presence of adverse public records (bankruptcy, judgements, suits, liens, wage attachments, etc.), collection items, and/or delinquency (past due items)
  • Severity of delinquency (how long past due)
  • Amount past due on delinquent accounts or collection items
  • Time since (recency of) past due items (delinquency), adverse public records (if any), or collection items (if any)
  • Number of past due items on file
  • Number of accounts paid as agreed

Amounts Owed
  • Amount owing on accounts
  • Amount owing on specific types of accounts
  • Lack of a specific type of balance, in some cases
  • Number of accounts with balances
  • Proportion of credit lines used (proportion of balances to total credit limits on certain types of revolving accounts)
  • Proportion of installment loan amounts still owing (proportion of balance to original loan amount on certain types of installment loans)

Length of Credit History
  • Time since accounts opened
  • Time since accounts opened, by specific type of account
  • Time since account activity

New Credit
  • Number of recently opened accounts, and proportion of accounts that are recently opened, by type of account
  • Number of recent credit inquiries
  • Time since recent account opening(s), by type of account
  • Time since credit inquiry(s)
  • Re-establishment of positive credit history following past payment problems

Types of Credit Used
  • Number of (presence, prevalence, and recent information on) various types of accounts (credit cards, retail accounts, installment loans, mortgage, consumer finance accounts, etc.)

01 November 2008

First person accounts of the Great Depression

Now, before I get accused of spreading panic, I don't believe we're on the cusp of another Great Depression. Although to use the parlance of the day then, hard times is comin'. I doubt I'll find myself on a breadline any time soon but it's good to keep in mind that the economic growth and stability that the US has enjoyed since the end of the Second World War is both unprecedented and a historical anomaly. Hard times are the usual course of of events, not peace and prosperity. We're incredibly fortunate to live in the times we do and it does a body good to review what life was like for the people on whose shoulders we're standing. 

With that said, the online magazine Slate has a finance-themed spin off site called The Big Money. The Big Money got their hands on a diary written by a Youngstown, Ohio attorney named Benjamin Roth. Roth started keeping a diary in 1931 and did so until his death in 1978.
Benjamin Roth was born in New York City in 1894 and moved shortly thereafter to Youngstown, Ohio. He received a law degree and moved back to Youngstown after serving as an Army officer during World War I. When the stock market crashed in 1929, he had been practicing law for approximately 10 years, largely representing local businesses. After nearly two years, he began to grasp the magnitude of what had happened to American economic life, and in June 1931, he began writing down his impressions in a diary that he maintained intermittently until he died in 1978. His perceptions and experiences have a chilling similarity to our own era, and The Big Money believes that Roth's words—though they are 75 years old—have much to teach us today; we'll be serializing several excerpts.

The Big Money ran the first installment last week and you can find it here. The second installment posted this week and you can find it here.

Despite my Steinbeck-fueled romantic notions of that era, it had to have been a horror to live through. It's interesting to read Roth's usually dispassionate descriptions of his daily life. Check it out and count your blessings.

24 October 2008

Short selling explained

My pal Paddy Hirsch, Marketplace's Senior Editor, has taken to his dry erase board again to explain the whys and wherefores of the much discussed but seldom understood practice of short selling.

Getting naked in short selling from Marketplace on Vimeo.

14 October 2008

The Bailout explained

Paddy Hirsch, senior editor of NPR's Marketplace, released another video that explains the bailout in easy to follow terms. He explains what's happening in the financial markets, what the Fed and the Treasury's plan is to fix it and what's at stake. Brilliant!

The credit crisis as Antarctic expedition from Marketplace on Vimeo.

11 October 2008

Saturday funnies

Kai Ryssdal is the the host of NPR's Marketplace and is one of my favorite voices in the media. Marketplace makes listening to financial news interesting and occasionally, fun. Last week, the "Marketplace Players" mounted a one-act play to explain the credit collapse of '08. Here it is:

SELLER:[sound of door opening] All right. So glad to hear the Union of Mothers and Nurses Pension Fund is keen to invest with us, Mr. Moron.

BUYER: Actually, That's Mah-RONE.

SELLER: Oh, do pardon me.

BUYER: Happens all the time. Now, we really took a hit when Lead Paint Toyco went under, so we'd like some big, quick returns here.

SELLER: Then have I got the product for you. It's called a reverse sub-micro-standard mortgage shadow security and -- do you hold a degree in rocket science?

BUYER: Nope.

SELLER: Hmm. Well then, simply put, what we do is take semi-insured debts that've been sold to us from inelastic bubble markets, vertically resell, then unbundle the revenues according to Moody's astro-logarithm.

BUYER: Astro ...

SELLER: Astro-logarithm, which gives a monetized valuation that has itself been subdivided into A-3 and G-minus pumpkin patch. You following?
BUYER: Not at all!

SELLER: Great; me neither, really! This thing was invented by some eggheads we keep in a cave.

BUYER: Please, continue.

SELLER: Right. So, I think the Q-grades are dumped and leveraged upwards across 25 underplummeries? Our unicorn gives it a kick, and presto: you've got 300 percent annual growth.

BUYER: Now, you just said "unicorn." There is such a thing?

SELLER: Uhhh. Kind of? Honestly, I don't know. Don't care!

BUYER: Well, you also said "300 percent." So, I'm sold!

SELLER: OK! How much you want?

BUYER: How about far more than we can afford?


BUYER: Great doing business with you, Mr. Exploiter.

SELLER: Actually, that's Ex-PLAH-tee-ay.

BUYER: Whatevs!

10 October 2008

More explanations from Marketplace

Please excuse me as I perform another public service, but I firmly believe that what's happening in the financial sector affects all of us in some way or another. It's helpful to know what's at the root of the current financial crisis.

Here's another great Paddy Hirsch video from Marketplace. This time, Hirsch takes on Credit Default Swaps. Credit default swaps are what brought down AIG and the rest of the financial titans who have floundered and collapsed in the last few weeks. This one's ten minutes long, but it's still an entirely watchable explanation of a complex idea that currently wreaking havoc the world over.

09 October 2008

The financial meltdown partially explained

I had a client call me this afternoon and cancel not only our next appointment, but our entire job. It seems he's lost, according to him, a half million dollars in the last week-and-a-half. Clearly and understandably, all bets are off.

So Wall Street has begun to affect my Main Street. Frankly, I could never hear that phrase again and die a happy man. So I'll personalize it even further, Wall Street has affected Seventh Avenue North. I want to believe that this will be an isolated incident, but I have a feeling that it won't be. Oh well, I kept my head through the boom and I'll keep my head through the bust.

I stay on top of financial stuff and I do it by reading the financial papers, or more accurately, skimming the financial papers. Equally helpful is a great little show on NPR called Marketplace. Marketplace has its own section on NPR's website and Marketplace's editorial staff does a great job of further exploring financial and economic concepts.

Here's a video put together by Marketplace's Senior Editor, Paddy Hirsch. Hirsch explains in very clear terms what a CDO, or Collateralized Debt Obligation is. CDO's are partially responsible for the current financial crisis. Give it a watch if you're interested in understanding some of what's going on.

Crisis explainer: Uncorking CDOs from Marketplace on Vimeo.

22 September 2008

And speaking of laundry...

In another shocking example of the national, New York-based media finding something I've known about for years, MSNBC's Your Business recently did a piece on my beloved Northeast Laundry, right here in Saint Pete. I mentioned yesterday that I send out my laundry every week, well guess where I send it?

Leonard and Jennifer Cooperman, owners of The Northeast Laundry, won a small business makeover from MSNBC's Your Business earlier this year. Their prize consisted of a couple of months of one-on-one time with gazillion dollar an hour consultant and Six Sigma guru Greg Brue. From what Leonard tells me, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and he couldn't be more grateful for the advice. Brue spent a lot of time with the Coopermans and their staff and showed them how to take better care of their customers and make more money at the same time. What a great combination.

I used to think that sending out my laundry was a costly indulgence. But then I did the math. It costs me less money to send it out than it does to do it at home. And that's before I add in the amount of time I save. I cannot recommend using a service like this highly enough. If you're in Saint Pete, stop by The Northeast Laundry at 7035 Fourth Street North. Let them take a load off for you. It will change your life. Check out their website here.

17 September 2008

Mortgage mess

This little gem came to my attention through my pals over at Consumerist. The Dow Jones is in a downward spiral this morning as it comes time to pay the fiddler. Unfortunately, we're going to be the ones stuck with the bill as the market corrects itself. What ever happened to the good ole Republican idea about giving a hand up not a hand out? It went to the same place where their other pearl of wisdom went; that industries can regulate themselves. Anyhow, what's happening in the financial sector this week affects everyone whether or not you understand what's going on or not. Here's a PowerPoint presentation that explains it pretty well.

Read this document on Scribd: CDO Powerpoint SubPrime Primer

Smart savings plan

Check this out! My pals over at Consumerist ran this story and link last week. I'd never heard of such a thing before. The thing I'd never heard of before is a website called Smarty Pig. I am a huge fan of online savings accounts. I've been a loyal account holder at Ing Direct for a while now and I cannot endorse the practice of regular, planned savings loudly enough.

Last year, I took what ended up being the most expensive vacation I'd ever taken in my life. About a year before I left, I opened a new savings account with Ing that was dedicated to this vacation. I squirreled away small sums of money regularly and repeatedly and before I knew it, I was able to pay cash for that vacation. For a lot of people, the idea of goal-oriented savings was covered in adulthood 101. Well, I must have slept through that class or something because I figured it out on my own in my 40s. Better late than never though. Right?

As fond as I am of Ing Direct, Smarty Pig takes the idea of a goal-oriented savings plan and improves it by an order of magnitude or two. Smarty Pig pays 3.9 percent interest for starters, that's nearly a point higher than what I'[m getting from Ing. But that's not where the differences end. When you join Smarty Pig, you set up an account for a specific goal. Whether it's for a vacation, a new TV, or a kitchen renovation. Once you set that goal, your savings are locked away where you can't get at them until you reach that goal.

If you're new to savings (looking at the average debt load of most Americans, that's just about everybody), one of the hardest things to do is keep your hands off your money once it starts to accumulate. By locking it away, Smarty Pig removes the temptation.

Smarty Pig also gives you the option to make your savings goals public so that your friends and family can watch your progress. It defeats the purpose of learning how to save money, but those same friends and family can also contribute toward your goal.

So, if you're not a saver but know you should be, check out Smarty Pig. It's a great tool to learn how to save money and that 3.9 percent interest rate cannot be beat.

14 September 2008

Is Lehman the Fifth Horseman?

I received this e-mail from my pals at Ing Direct at about the same time that Lehman Brothers were preparing to file for bankruptcy. If you missed it, Lehman's failure will be the biggest bank failure in US history and marks yet another lurch toward the abyss. This is bad and not to incite a bigger financial panic than the one that will greet the morning, but if you're smart you'll get your money out of Washington Mutual while you can...

Why is the financial sector meltdown not an issue in this presidential campaign? The roll back regulation crowd and market fetishists are awfully quiet and seem to be counting on the usual smokescreens and tabloid-derived wedge issues to make this go away. "He called her a pig!" "She's a hockey mom gals can relate to!" "She's qualified! She can field dress a moose!" "He wants to teach sex ed to kindygartners!" "She's a reformer!" Well, let see her, or anybody for that matter, reform this mess. That is, if it doesn't destroy the world economy first.

Anyhow, thank you Ing. Leave it up to a non-US-owned bank to run a bank properly. Read this man's surprisingly candid advice and believe like I do.

Dear Paul,
Customer Number: XXXXXXX178

As we enter the final few months of 2008, I want to thank you for your continued confidence in ING DIRECT. Over 700,000 new Savers have joined us so far this year strengthening the bank and their own financial footing through our savings, home mortgage and ShareBuilder investment accounts. Despite a challenging economic climate, our Customer base is 7 million strong and growing.

The consequences of the mortgage meltdown on financial institutions and individuals continue to erode many Americans' dreams. We will continue to stress the right way to achieve home ownership – buying only as much house as you can afford and paying off your mortgage as fast as possible. In return for good credit and prioritizing home investment, ING DIRECT mortgage Customers are rewarded with exceptional rates and a transparent, direct administration process. Rather than selling your mortgage to another bank or investor the minute you get it, we keep your mortgage and service it here. Doing so gives us flexibility to find innovative solutions to help Customers keep their homes during unexpected financial downturns.

While we don’t have an Orange crystal ball, we do expect the economy to remain fragile through 2009. The best course of action for our Customers is to be disciplined: avoid splurging; identify and cut out unnecessary expenses and save for what's essential; and hedge against those tough times. We can all benefit by developing good spending habits: confront - and cut up - credit cards; use your home as a savings vehicle - not as an ATM; and establish and contribute regularly to an IRA or 401(k).

In this difficult financial environment, we work tirelessly to safeguard your deposits, mortgages and investments. Importantly, your deposits are FDIC-insured according to its limits and your investments are SIPC-protected. Our security processes are the best in the business and are in place to protect your savings from those with bad intentions. While we are constantly vigilant, we need your help. Keep passwords to yourself. Never give personal information through an email. And always install both the latest antivirus and anti-malware software on your home computer.

Thank you for your continued trust in
ING DIRECT. We will not waver in our promise to provide you with great value, service, security and convenience.

Arkadi Kuhlmann
CEO of Savings


1 South Orange Street
Wilmington, DE 19801