Category Archives: Product & Service Reviews

Customer Service Saved the Sale

Very few purchases are as stressful as buying a new car.  Next to buying a house, a car is the second largest purchase that most people make.  Since it is such a large purchase, it is wise to do some research before you sign on the dotted line.

We recently decided that we were going to buy a new car.  My wife and I live in North East Pennsylvania.  While there are parts of the country that do receive more snow than we do, we start to get snow in November and this year it kept snowing until late April.  As the result of our long snow season, we find that Subaru is our best option.

The all-wheel-drive comes in handy on bad road conditions.  In the past, Subaru did not provide very good miles per gallon (MPG) for the size of their cars.  Now, with the CVT transmission, they average around 30 MPG.  In my opinion, that is good for an all-wheel-drive car.

We decided that we wanted a Subaru Outback.  The Subaru Outback matched our needs.  We like to go to our local lakes and the Outback is rated to tow up to 2,700 lbs.  That is more than enough to pull our kayak trailer.

As a member of the financial independence community, I am extremely frugal.  I don’t like spending money, but when I do, I shop for the best value.  I view salespeople as competition.  That is especially the case for big-ticket purchases like a car.

My approach to car shopping is simple.  I know the make and model of what I want before I head out to buy it.  I know how much I want to spend.  As the result of KBB, the value of my trade in is already known. 

To find a car, I just type in what I am looking for in Cars.com.  It is based on year, brand, model, budget, and I search for certified used.  The distance that I am willing to travel is 150 miles. Based on where I live, the 150-mile distance covers both New York City and Philadelphia where there are high volume dealers that offer better prices.  The last part of my search is to sort by lowest mileage on the car.

After I performed that search, the first car that came up was a 2017 Subaru Outback Premium with 4,000 miles for $24,995.  When I looked at what the average price for the same exact car, the closest that I was able to find was one for $27,500, but it had 30,000 miles.  I am willing to drive two hours to save $2,500 and to get a car with 26,000 fewer miles.

Now that I picked out the car, I reached out to the dealer.  I told them that I wanted to buy the car.  My initial call was on a Tuesday.  I made an appointment for the following Saturday.  They did inform me that they could not hold the car but would reach out to me if it was sold. 

Over the course of that week, I had communicated with the car dealer every day.  There was at least one email per day and a few phone calls.  Friday rolled around, and they sent me an email to verify my appointment.  We were all set.

When Saturday arrived, my wife and I drove down to Allentown, Pa to buy our new car.  The dealer was right off of the highway and easy to find.  I thought that it was going to be a simple process.

When we arrived, I asked for the salesperson who I was dealing with.  When he came out, he had bad news.  He told us that the car was sold that morning.  I was annoyed, and my wife was pissed.  She asked him, why did they not call us?  He apologized and said that they have other used Outback’s and would find us another car.

At this point, I had a feeling that I was not going to buy a car from this dealer.  I looked at their online inventory and they did not have any deals that were as good as what I came down for. The salesman asked if we wanted to see their used inventory and I just played along.

He showed us about 10 used Subaru Outback’s that they had in inventory.  One was $1,000 cheaper than the one we drove down for but had 43,000 miles on the odometer.  That was a no.  Most of what they had were the Limited model that was a step above what we wanted to buy.  They were nice.  The Limited had more features like leather and other fancy crap, but they were $30,000 and higher.  I saw one that I liked and asked if he could get it down to $25,000.  He did not think that he could do it.

At this point, I was already looking for a new car on my phone.  I found a very similar deal in New Jersey.  It was only 40 minutes away and I was ready to drive there.

The salesman knew that we were not interested in what he was selling.  I flat out told him that I drove 60 miles for a specific deal.  We only buy cars every 8-10 years and I am willing to travel to buy a cream-puff used car.

He asked if we were willing to sit in his office while he went and spoke to the Sales Manager.  I was not mad at them for selling the car I came down for.  It is just business.  However, I was not going to pay any more than what I budgeted for and was not willing to accept a car with more miles.

He disappeared and left us in his office.  My wife was already over the experience and thought the deal was a basic bait-and-switch.  I was programming the other Subaru Dealer into Google Maps and ready to drive to New Jersey.

About 10 minutes passed and the salesman came back.  He asked what we thought about buying a brand new 2018 model.  I thought to myself, here comes the bait and switch.  He is going to try to sell us a $30,000 plus car.

He told us that he spoke to his Sales Manager.  The best that they could do was to sell us the exact same car that we drove down for except it was brand new and cost $25,300.  It took me about 1 second to review the offer and I said, “you got a deal”.

The Sales Manager came over and told us that he wanted us to leave the dealership satisfied.  He knew that we drove over 1-hour and he felt that he had to offer us a better deal than we came in for.  He reduced the price on the brand-new car from $29,500 to $25,300.

Even though our initial opinion of this dealer felt shady, they ended up saving the sale.  I wish that I could tell you that it was the result of my negotiation skills, but it was not.  My wife and I were just willing to walk away and never come back.  The Salesman and Sales Manager both knew that.  To save the sale, they had to sharpen their pencil on a new model to close the deal. They did what they had to and it was one of the best displays of customer service that I ever experienced.

I was more than satisfied with this deal.  More importantly, my wife was satisfied.  It is her new car.

Even though they had to drastically reduce the price, they saved the sale.  As the result, they made the customer happy.  Without knowing it, they benefited by me sharing this positive experience with my friends, family, and everyone who reads this blog.

As the result of their excellent customer service, I highly recommend Ciocca Subaru in Allentown, Pennsylvania. They are about 60-miles from Philadelphia and about 90 miles from New York City.  If you live in the Mid-Atlantic Region and are looking to buy a Subaru, I would contact Ciocca Subaru.

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Making Retirement Less Complicated

The following is a sponsored post provided by Blueprint Income.

Planning for retirement is challenging. It’s the most complicated time in our lives, financially. When you’re young, all you really need to do is save. But, eventually saving won’t be enough. You have to start figuring out how you’ll actually survive in retirement. And it’s not the same as surviving today for 3 big reasons, which I’ll go through below. Then I’ll tell you about a company I recently discovered that is trying to make retirement less complicated.

Reason 1: You won’t have a steady source of income.

While we’re working, the financial calculus is pretty simple: spend less than you make. Many of us have steady sources of income that dictate our spending ability. We know that each month we’ll get $X dollars, and we spend some amount less than $X so that we don’t go into debt and we save.

But in retirement, unless you’re one of the lucky ones who have a pension, you won’t have a steady source of income. We do have Social Security, which helps a lot, but it only covers 40% of the average retiree’s spending. So the remaining 60% of our spending we’ll have to cover through interest, withdraws from our savings accounts, or finding some other way to generate income. Most of our options out there aren’t as stable as our salaries, so we might not have the security of steady income.

Reason 2: You don’t know how long retirement will last.

There’s a reason why you can’t get a great answer to the question of how much you need to save for retirement. There are so many variables that impact that number, including what happens in the stock/bond markets and how long you live. You might have a retirement that lasts 10 years, or perhaps it’ll last 30 years. A 30-year retirement is wildly more expensive than a 10-year retirement. So which do you prepare for?

This also isn’t as much of a challenge if you have a pension, because a pension provides income no matter how long you live. But if you’re heading into retirement with a finite amount of assets, you need to figure out how much to spend monthly so that you don’t run out, no matter how long you live.

Reason 3: You might not have the same cognitive ability to deal with your finances.

Sometimes we procrastinate — it’s normal! And, often it’s not a huge deal; we’re able to catch up. But only because we’ll have the same level of intelligence and reasoning to get us back on track. Unfortunately, we can’t count on this in retirement. Some of us will start to lose our cognitive abilities. And, if we’ve set our future selves up with the responsibility of making complicated financial decisions (like the one outlined in reason 2), we might not do well.

Again, if we had pensions with paychecks coming in the door every month, then this wouldn’t be as much of a problem. But since most of us will be managing a market portfolio to an unknown end date, there will be no autopilot.

The Blueprint Income Solution

I was recently introduced to Blueprint Income, who are trying to do something about this. They’ve recognized the challenges listed above and created a new type of retirement plan to deal with it. It’s called the Personal Pension. Using annuities (insurance products that provide guaranteed income in retirement), they’re able to help you design your own pension-like plan if you don’t have one from your employer.

You contribute to it on an ongoing basis, alongside your 401(k). But, instead of that money going to buy stocks and bonds, it turns into steady retirement income that continues for as long as you’re alive, and even if the stock market crashes.

The annuity market is known for being complicated, hard to navigate, and expensive, so they’re dealing with that as well. Their platform only includes the simplest, fully-guaranteed, low-cost annuities, not the more complicated variable and indexed annuities that have a bad rap. And, their plans start at $5,000 with the ability to contribute flexibly over time if desired, much lower than the rest of the market.

Learn more about Blueprint Income and the Personal Pension here.

All of this isn’t to say that retirement is necessarily going to be hard or complicated for you. In fact, it has the potential to be exactly the opposite. But, creating a financially secure retirement for yourself — where you don’t have to stress about money — takes hard work and planning ahead. I hope the resources on this site and companies like Blueprint Income help make it easier for all of you.

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Your Money or Your Life: Chapter 2 Review

Your Money or Your Life is a classic personal finance book.  Vicki Robin and the late Joe Dominguez wrote this book in 1992.  Your Money or Your Life is not the first personal finance book.  It was, however, one of the first personal finance books that started to explore the topic of Financial Independence.  It is a book that introduced the concept of examining and ultimately transforming your relationship with money.

This post is part 3 in a series of posts by a group of popular personal finance bloggers who are reviewing each chapter of the completely revised and updated edition of Your Money or Your Life.  The introduction to this series was launched on Rockstar Finance.  The review of Chapter 1 was written by Aaron at Personal Finance for Beginners.  That leads us up to this post.  Below is my review of Chapter 2.

Previous Reviews:

Rockstar Finance – Introduction

Personal Finance for Beginners – Chapter 1

Chapter 2 – MONEY AIN’t What It USED TO BE – AND NEVER WAS

As with many books, chapter 2 is where the author starts to get into the thick of things.  The narrative of Chapter 2 follows that natural flow.  In chapter 2, the reader is introduced to money.  What does money mean to you?  Do you have money problems?  How do you earn it?  How do you spend it?  Do you save money?  How should money be invested?  Do you love money, or do you resent it?  Is money good or evil?  To better understand what money is, Vicki and Joe suggest that it needs to be looked at on the material level as well as the nonmaterial level.

THE FOUR PERSPECTIVES OF MONEY

In the first edition, there was a major section of chapter 2 that broke down the four perspectives of money.  That was not included in the updated edition.  The updated edition is more streamlined.  It is rumored that Joe would get animated when presenting the four perspectives at their original seminars.  I feel the four perspectives of money are still relevant and will break them down in case you have not read the original edition.

The Street-Level Perspective of Money – The Practical, Physical Realm

The street-level is where the day-to-day transactions occur.  This is where people are introduced to money in their youth.  The street-level is why people work to earn money and advance their education to earn more money.  This is the level where the masses learn how to earn money, spend money, and hopefully save money.

The street level is also where many people get into trouble with money.  This is the level where people fall victim to the concept of more.  To buy more stuff, people go into debt.  To pay off debt, more work is required.  To make more money, more risk is taken.  The street-level is where most people get off on the wrong footing.

The Neighborhood Perspective of Money – The Emotional/Psychological Realm

The neighborhood perspective is an examination of the emotional perspective of money.  Were you born on the wrong side of the tracks?  Did you grow up rich, poor, or somewhere in the middle?  Do you base your security on money?  Should you?  Do you see money as power?  Does having money enable you to get what you want from others?  Does money truly make people more socially acceptable?  Is money evil or does it just bring out shortcomings in people?

The Citywide Perspective of Money – The cultural Realm

The citywide perspective is a view from above.  This is where individuals blend together.  It is where different neighborhoods are connected by streets that flow from the rich to the poor part of town.  The citywide perspective is the view where the individual and their own relationship with money is lost.  General norms and assumptions are made on this level.  This is the big picture perspective of money.  It is rooted in history, economics, and sociology.  This is the level where financial fear is distributed to the masses.

The Jet Plane Perspective of Money – Personal Responsibility and Transformation

The jet plane perspective is where the transformation occurs.  This is where you let go of your old ideas about money.  The jet plane view is where people become honest with themselves and start to accept the truth about money.  This is where money and spirituality converge.

Money is life energy.  We trade energy for money.  People work for money, worry about money, spend money, and plan their whole life around money.  Most people will not admit it, but money truly is the center of their universe.  Once a person can accept that fact, they can decide how to better channel their energy and break away from the bondage that money has over them.  The jet plane level is where people start to think about how they truly want to live when money is not the motivation.

A Simple Summary of What is – and is Not

The updated edition replaces the four perspectives of money with a simple summary of what money is and is not.  Vicki briefly touches on the four perspectives and reflects on Joe’s past performances.  In this edition, Vicki gets to the point quicker than Joe did in the previous editions.

Money = life energy, but having money is not a magic wand that changes your past relationship with money.  Money flows in and out of our lives.  Our relationship with money needs to be examined.  Where does it improve our lives and where do we get the most pleasure or use from it?

Money is simply a reflection of who we are.  Do we use it to buy things to display status?  Do we spend it in an environmentally conscious way?  Do we pay our bills on time?  Do we have a healthy or unhealthy relationship with money?

There are people who want to take your money.  Marketers have a job to market their products.  Marketers are paid to make people believe whatever it takes to sell a product or service.  I used to work in Marketing.  That is 100% true.

To prevent them from taking your energy, just don’t buy what they are selling.  To do that, a person needs to act.  Chapter 2 breaks down a course of action to follow.

Your Life Energy 

Vicki asks the reader “what does money = life energy mean to them”?  The reader is free to decide how they want to spend their time.  Do you want to spend your limited amount of time living or do you want to spend that time working to spend more on things that do not add meaning or happiness to your life?

Financial Independence 

The second half of chapter 2 is where the concept of financial independence is broken down.  Vicki does not deviate much from the original edition but just freshens it up.  The focus is still based on having limited time on this planet.  Should we spend our energy making money or living and enjoying life?  If a person decides that they want to live more and work less, they need to achieve financial independence.

Financial independence simply means that a person has enough.  Enough does not mean that you are rich.  Enough must be defined by the individual.

Financial and Psychological Freedom

Once an individual determines what enough is for them, they can change their relationship with money.  This is where the bondage from your past relationship with money is broken.  This is the level where you break free from the lies that surround your relationship with money.

Being in the Present – Tracking your Life Energy

To be successful, an inventory is needed.  It is important to track your life energy.  To better practice the art of living in the present, it is vital to take a deep dive into where all your energy is being exerted.

In this section of both editions, the authors get into actual costs.  How much energy is spent on commuting, clothing, and meals?  As the result of expending energy, a person needs to recharge.  As people attempt to recharge, they just spend more energy trying to decompress with substances, spend money on entertainment, and take expensive vacations or buy toys.  As the result of wasting energy on trying to gain energy people get ill and must spend more energy on getting well.

At this point, people start to realize that they are spending more energy than they are being compensated for.  Their salary ends up being much lower than they ever realized.  They are exerting far more in the untracked exertion of energy than they could ever be compensated for.  Their real hourly wage is much lower than they ever could imagine.

The authors understand that this process is life changing.  When people are faced with a change they tend to balk and not want to escape their emotional comfort zone.  This is purely a spiritual process.  There is no need or room for shame.  There is no reason to look for someone to blame.

The next step is to take positive action.  It will require some work.  The final step requires a simple writing exercise.  It is suggested to track energy spent vs salary earned.  It is a writing exercise to gain perspective on what you are truly earning from your employment.  In this step, the number of hours of energy that is put out is measured against actual earnings.  I did it.  It is an eye-opening exercise.

The authors also suggest that you track all of the money that comes into your life as well as the money that goes out of your life.  They refer to it a spiritual discipline.  This is much easier today with tools like Personal Capital.  You no longer need to write down with pencil and paper like most people who followed this approach did back in 1992.

Conclusion

It was fun to read the updated edition of Your Money or Your Life.  A few decades have passed since the first edition was published.  It was nice to catch up on how she views money today compared to the early 1990’s.  The updated edition of chapter 2 had a fresh feel to the narrative.  Even though it was revised, it still contained the same spiritual principles of honesty, vigilance, and willingness to change that was in the original edition.

If you were a fan of the original edition, you are sure to enjoy the updated edition of Your Money or Your Life and the new website yourmoneyoryourlife.com.

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Fire Your Financial Adviser

I have been on the journey toward financial independence for a long time.  I started saving and investing to reach financial independence at age 20.  When I decided that I wanted to become wealthy, I knew that I needed to be educated on how to turn this goal into a reality.

While at college, I studied Business Management.  Even though I tried to take as many finance classes as possible, I did not learn much about personal finance.  Sure, I studied financial analysis and other classes, but the content was mostly geared towards learning how to dissect financial statements.  It was taught more from the standpoint of learning how to become an administrator.  Those classes have helped me during my career, but not so much as an individual investor.

My goal was to learn how to invest to receive optimal returns.  There are many mixed messages when it comes to investing.  My focus was to learn how to become a successful investor.  In order to do that, I had to learn how to sift through the noise and to find the most practical content to help me learn how to manage my finances.

Since 1997, I have read almost 100 investing books.  Over the years, I have subscribed to many different personal finance magazines and journals.  Most of the time that I spend online has been reading investing articles, forums, or blogs.

I have read many great financial journalists, bloggers, and random forum posts that have helped me with my financial planning.  There has been one person, however, who I have always enjoyed reading.  That person is Doctor James Dahle.  Before I knew him by his actual name, I knew him as The White Coat Investor.

The first time that I came across The White Coat Investor was in 2007.  This was a very volatile time for investors.  The Great Recession was on the horizon.  There were many posts on the Bogleheads.org forum from The White Coat Investor that helped me to stay the course, tune out the noise, and to focus on investing for the long-term.  I am thankful for those posts by The White Coast Investor and grateful that I followed his advice.

The White Coat Investor’s target audience is primarily Medical Doctors and other high-income folks.  Most of what The White Coat Investor writes about, however, transcends profession and tax brackets.  His financial advice can be applied to anyone who is working, saving, and investing to reach financial independence.

To help Doctor’s and other high-income professionals reach financial independence, The White Coat Investor has recently launched a new course.  The focus of this online course is to teach high earners how to create a financial plan that is tailored to their unique financial needs.  It is a step-by-step course for creating and implementing a financial plan without having to use a financial advisor.

The course is based on 12 learning modules.  I have reviewed the content.  It is truly a bargain for only $499.

There is a reason why this course is titled Fire Your Financial Advisor.  After you complete this comprehensive course, you will no longer have to pay a financial advisor for their services.  You will be prepared to manage all of your finances by yourself.

This class goes a step beyond what a financial advisor traditionally helps with.  Fire Your Financial Advisor is not just another way to promote passive investing in index funds.  It is tailored to the needs of physicians and other high-income professionals.  After finishing the course, you will be more confident on how to manage your student loans, insurance, taxes, estate planning, legal protection from lawsuits, as well as everything you need to know about managing your investments.

As part of the 12 modules, you are provided with 7 hours of lectures, videos, and screenshots that you can refer to at any time.  As you advance through the material, there are pre-tests, quizzes for each section, and a final exam.  Upon completion, the course is set up to ensure that you have total mastery of the material.

It would take hundreds of hours of independent research to learn what The White Coat Investor provides in Fire Your Financial Advisor.  As a busy professional, do you have the time to read 30 or 40 books on these subjects?  Even if you do, you will not find many where the content has been written by a physician who understands your unique situation.  The White Coat Investor does all the heavy lifting for you.  He provides you with what you only need to know.  There is zero waste in this course.

Another great feature about the Fire Your Financial Advisor course is that there is not any risk.  Buy it and check it out.  If you find that it does not provide you with what you need to optimize your finances, there is a 7 day, risk-free, guarantee to return it.  It would be difficult if not impossible to hire a financial advisor who offers a money back guarantee.

The White Coat Investor is one of the good guys in the world of personal finance.  If you are a doctor and want to take control of your finances, check out Fire Your Financial Advisor.  You truly have nothing to lose other than $10,000 or more in annual fees that your financial advisor will charge you for what you can be doing yourself for free.

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Giving Stocks as a Gift

When I was growing up in the 1980’s, it was common to receive an EE Government Savings Bond for a gift.  My relatives would get them for me for my birthday when I received a sacrament at church, or for a holiday gift.  At the time, I would have much preferred a video game or almost anything other than a Savings Bond.

Looking back, my relative’s choice in gifts had my best interest in mind.  An EE Government Savings Bond was a prudent gift idea at the time.  Video games, toys, or even clothes wear out.  An investment, however, will grow in value.  It will provide the recipient with an even greater gift in the future.

As a Personal Finance Blogger, I have reflected on those EE Bonds that I received and wished that they were shares of individual stocks or an index fund that has a historical rate of return of 10%.  Many of these EE Government Savings Bonds that were purchased for me in the 1980’s had an interest rate of 6%.  Today, however, EE Government Savings Bonds only pay 3.5% if you hold them for 20 years.  I often wondered why more people do not buy shares of stocks or mutual funds as gifts for their young relatives or even other adults?  The best answer to that question is that it was once complicated to set up an investment account for another person.

There is now an easy way to purchase shares of stocks or ETFs as a gift for other people and even children under the age of 18.  The company that made this possible is called Stockpile.  Stockpile allows people to go online and purchase a gift card that is redeemable for shares of a publicly traded stock or an ETF.

Physical gift cards are sold in values of $25, $50, and $100.  E-gift face values can be any dollar amount up to $1000.  There are gift cards for shares of Facebook, Google, Nike, Amazon, and many other companies.  My favorite option is that there are gift cards for shares of ETFs from Fidelity, Charles Schwab, and Vanguard.

There are different ways to purchase gift cards from Stockpile.  A physical gift card can be purchased online or from the gift card rack at supermarkets or other retail stores.  There is the option to purchase an e-gift.  There is also an option to purchase stocks or ETFs for yourself.

Stockpile makes it easy for a minor to be able to own shares of stock or ETF.  If a gift card is purchased for a minor, an adult must be named on the account with them.  Minors can place a trade that goes to a parent/adult for approval.  The minor simply is named as the beneficiary until they reach the age of 18.

After reviewing Stockpiles website, the fees are fair considering the option of being able to now give the gift of stocks to another person with ease:

For an e-gift of stock: $2.99 for the first stock + $.99 per additional stock + credit/debit card fee

For a physical gift card: $4.95 to $7.95, depending on the face value of the gift card

For yourself: If you pay with cash, trades are only $.99, If you use credit $.99 plus 3%

For those who receive the gift card: Free to redeem, link to a bank account, switching to a different stock when redeemed, or re-gifting

After doing some research, Stockpile has received mostly strong reviews.  Consumer Reports, a source that I trust, stated that merging stocks and gift cards was a good idea and that it can have an impact on Kids.  Reuben Gregg Brewer from Seeking Alpha gave Stockpile a less favorable review because of the fees compared to what brokerage houses now charge.  Those brokerage houses, however, do not offer the ease of being able to simply gift a few shares of a stock or ETF to another adult or minor.

In my opinion, I like that Stockpile makes it easy to give the gift of stocks or ETFs to others.  A close friend of mine is expecting to have his first daughter in the next few weeks.  I purchased a gift card for the Vanguard 500 ETF as a gift for his daughter.  It will not mean anything to their little girl after she is born, but I bet she will be happy when she turns 18 and takes ownership of those shares.  I intent was to get her on the path to financial independence from the start of her life.

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