The Best of My Financial Reviews – 2012 Edition

my financial reviews

As I’m working on some posts for next week (including our financial goals for 2013) and beyond, I wanted to take a moment to say thank you for a wonderful year. I started My Financial Reviews almost a year ago.

My goal with this site is to help MFR readers gain control of their finances by reviewing various financial resources that fit their particular needs. I do this by reviewing books, financial services, products, and companies.

my financial reviews

The idea for this blog started over at my other site at Couple Money. Over there I write about how couples can build their finances together by living on one income and achieving their dreams with the second.

One aspect I enjoy about blogging is helping others discover personal finance books and services that could help them, but if I accepted every review off Couple Money would lose its focus. To maintain the same continuity as Couple Money I transferred over older review posts and included their original dates.

I decided to go and start My Financial Reviews as a way to make it easier for readers to find information they can use. It also allows me to write reviews to help others build their net worth while maintaining Couple Money’s own objectives.

My Favorite Posts of 2012

As I look back at 2012, I want to share a few of my favorite posts on MFR with you for those new subscribers that may have missed them.

  • 3 Personal Finance Books to Build Your Net Worth – Don’t feel like you have to read every personal finance books to get a handle on your money. If you read these 3 you’ll be set. Ok, you’ll be 80% done with your finances 🙂
  • Why We Love ING Direct (and How It Earns Us More Money) – We’ve used ING Direct for several years and have been happy customers. When a bank looks for a win-win situation versus just sending you fees, it’s a beautiful thing.
  • Our Debt Reduction Strategy – We’ve paid off credit card debt, a car loan, and we’re working on the student loan. I share some things that have helped us.
  • Watching Our Money with Mint – One of the easiest tools that we use is also free- Mint helps us track our spending and sends us emails when we’re going over our budget.
  • How Much is Home Ownership Costing Us? – Depending on your circumstances, home ownership can be a great deal or it can be a money pit. I wanted to give some of the expenses we’re experiencing with having a mortgage.
  • Finding a Reliable Used Car in Our Budget -When we were looking for a new car, we used Consumer Reports’ list to narrow down our search.
  • Driving Smarter and Going with Cash in May – In May I looked for ways to cut back on two of my expenses – eating out and gasoline for the car. I ran a Fuel Challenge which was a lot of fun.
  • Using Fuelly to Track Our Gas Mileage – Another handy and free tool that I’ve used this past year was Fuelly. It allows you to submit your gas receipt data and runs the numbers for you so you can track your gas mileage, prices, and cost per mile driven.
  • The $100 StartUp – Can You Do It? – If you’re looking for a get rich quick solution, this is not the book for you. It’s about finding a passion that fills a specific need for potential customers.

Thank you again for a fantastic year! I’m really looking forward to building this site up for you so you can have an online resource for financial tips and services.

Young House Love –

young house love Sherry john Petersik

This week is a busy one for many reasons, one of which is that I decided to finally tackle some home projects that we have been putting off since we moved in. One of my inspirations was from a new book I picked up online – Young House Love by Sherry and John Petersik, happy couple and proud owners of the site Young House Love.

For those not familiar with their blog, Young House Love has track the Petersiks’ home projects while raising a family in Richmond, Virginia. They recently released their first book about decor and design tips for do it yourselfers looking at fixing up their place.

Basic Book Info:  young house love  Sherry john Petersik

  • Full Title: Young House Love: 243 Ways to Paint, Craft, Update & Show Your Home Some Love
  • Authors:Sherry and John Petersik
  • Price: $25.95 (worth it! – oops wait until the end to find out…)

What’s Inside

As with every book I review I share a bit of what’s inside so you get an idea if this is the right one for you. Sherry and John pack a lot into this compact book.

  • Chill (Living Ideas)
  • Nosh (Kitchen and Dining Ideas)
  • Doze (Bedroom Ideas)
  • Rinse (Bathroom Ideas)
  • Stow (Organizing Ideas)
  • Hang (Artsy Ideas)
  • Tweak (Accessorizing Ideas)
  • Cheers (Entertaining Ideas)
  • Splat (Painting Ideas)
  • Out (Exterior Ideas)

My favorite sections, unsurprisingly, are the ones that deal with what we need to fix up with our place – painting and storage. We have plenty of space in our town house, but the way things are currently organized, you wouldn’t think so. I added a shelf in the laundry room last night and I’m hoping to adding a few more today if we finish on our other project – painting the master bathroom.

The bathroom is such a blah space which is a shame since I use it quite a bit to relax in the evenings. Fed up with our laziness, I went ahead and grabbed a gallon of paint and supplies the other day and got started. Today I’ll be finishing up the last wall and cleaning up the edges. Tip #213 help me to get over my paint paralysis with the room. I was having a hard time finding the ‘just right’ shade for the bathroom. comparing swtches to one another helped me to grab a really snappy color that fit with the mood I wanted to get for the room.

Who is Young House Love For?

What I love about this book is how it designed for both DIY novices (like myself) and those looking at adding something new to their arsenal of skills. You can pick and choose which idea or project to take up. The projects each have a key so you can figure our the costs, sweat equity, and time needed to complete them.

For those frugal readers, many of these ideas are inexpensive as Sherry and John love to take things they already have and re-purpose them. Overall, it’s a helpful, inspirational book that can get you falling in love with you place all over again.

Thoughts on Young House Love

If you’re looking for a book to help you spruce up your place that’s easy to follow, I recommend Young House Love.

4 Common Budget Mistakes and How to Fix Them

caution budget problems and fixes

After reading different books on personal finance, I noticed some common mistakes that people make with their budgets. We decided to examine our own budget a while back and we were happy to see we were spending less than what we earn. We were about to set aside some money for savings, but we weren’t optimizing our cash flow like we thought.

Ignoring What You Spend caution budget problems and fixes

Many people don’t make a budget because they think they’re restraining or restricting themselves. That’s not the case. The purpose of budgets is to give you freedom to spend money without feeling guilty. The restriction from budgets is keeping you from acquiring more debt.

Have you ever got money from the ATM machine and threw away the receipt without looking at it? (I did when I was in college and it lead to some surprises later on.) Do you not open bills because you’re afraid to see what the balance is? You can’t help yourself by ignoring the problem

Fix It: Know exactly where you stand in your finances.

Try keeping all the receipts you have from one week. Even for small purchases under $5. At the end of the week, see want you spend on everything. I’d put it on a Excel spread sheet and make a pie chart and a bar chart.

What’s your biggest expense? How much does it cost you? If you’re not into that, use a free service like Mint to help you track your spending.

Make Minimal Payments on Your Credit Cards

The only way I can explain this in words is that you’ve basically decided to sign an agreement with the credit card to make them rich with your money while keeping yourself poor. Check out’s minimum payment calculator to get proof of what I’m saying.

Fix It: Review your monthly statements to know what you need to pay.

Look at the minimum payments and interest rates with your statements. Double check your bills as it’s very possible that your credit card company can make mistakes on charges.

Paying Late or Skipping Payments

So you may have needed some money to go out and eat and use you the money that was set aside for the credit card or you may have skipped it, not a big deal, right? Credit card companies make a killing when this happens, even if you’re a day late. Most cards will charge you $39 and it’s gets bigger when interest is calculated. By having a poor payment record, you’re also decreasing your FICO score which determines your interest rates for car loans and mortgages. It’s a huge loss for you and a big gain for them.

Fix It: Use Bill Pay

Set up free online bill pay with your bank. Most banks and credit unions offer money and time saving feature. Spend an hour setting this up with your bills, account numbers, due dates, and amounts, and you’ll only need a few minutes a month to keep it up

Use your Credit Card as an Emergency Fund

One great thing about credit cards is that you can use when your car breaks down on the highway and you need a tow and there’s not enough cash in your wallet or an ATM nearby.  If you have that cash in savings, you’d immediately pay your card and you’ll have no interest to pay.

The problem is when you don’t have the savings and that emergency expense is growing on your credit card thanks to the interest.

Fix It:  Start an emergency fund.

A first goal is to save enough to cover monthly bills, then your next goal might be 2-3 months. Have a portion of your paycheck transferred to a high interest savings account. Start small, like 5% of your income, and automate your money to transfer to high yields savings. You’ll be surprised how you won’t notice the little decrease in spending money. If you get comfortable, you can increase the amount.

Your Thoughts on Fixing Budget Mistakes

It pays to shape up on your personal  finances. Getting ahead with your finances is possible by looking at the leaks in your budget and fixing them up. You want to create a positive cash flow system that is easy to maintain. I’d love to hear from you about how you manage your money. How about you what common financial mistakes have you made?

Photo Credit

Making 2013 a Great Year for Your Money

When you start off the new year, why don’t add some money in your pocket and a bit for your future self? Don’t worry – I’m not asking you to make drastic changes overnight to your finances. Instead I want to show you how to focus on making automated and sustainable adjustments  so when you save, the habit doesn’t just stick, you actually grow your money..

Contribute More to Your 401(k)

When you have a moment this week, go ahead and call your Human Resources Department and increase your 401 (k) contributions by 1% (more is better of course).

It’s small enough that you probably won’t notice on your paycheck, but over time, it can bump up your retirement nest egg.

Don’t believe me? The New York Times has a calculator that will run the numbers for you. You simply have to enter:

  • Your Annual Salary
  • Your Current Nest Egg Balance
  • Your Annual Savings Rate

You can use the historical averages given for salary increases and annual returns or adjust it to your estimations. I ran the numbers for someone who has no current savings, 3% salary increases, with 30 years to go before retiring.

With the data I gave, my projected earnings could be increased by over $100,000 if 1% more was saved.

Adjust Your Withhold on Your Paychecks

Are you looking at paying down a debt this year or do you want to establish or build some savings as a financial cushion. There may be a way you can give yourself a small raise in 2013.

If you received a big tax refund last year and you expect your finances to remain for next year, you can call Human Resources (again) and adjust your W-4. That will allow you to change your withholdings – you may get smaller refund, but you have more money in your paychecks through out 2013.

If you want to make sure that the extra money actually goes to your goals, then setting up a transfer from your checking account to savings or setting up automated payments for a debt is an effective system. You don’t have to constantly check your accounts and you’re most likely to keep it.

We created a saving system and it has really helped us over the years. Checking our balances takes about 5 minutes a month and our rates have been consistently higher than most of the brick and mortar options around us.

If you have a high yield savings account, such as Ally Bank (open an account today) or Capital One 360 (open an account now),  you can also speed up the process of building your savings. We use Ally for some of our savings needs and they have given us great service. they have no minimum balance and are offering competitive rates. What’s great is that you don’t have to switch banks – Ally with work with your current banking system.

Thoughts on Getting Ready for 2013

I’d love to hear from you. How are you financially preparing for next year? What are some of your financial goals Are you looking at paying down a debt? Are you trying to build some savings? What are going to do THIS week to set that up?