What Is A Ponzi Scheme – In Simple Terms

With all of the talk about Bernie Madoff heading off to jail for a few years (a century or so) the thought on a lot of people’s minds is How did he do it? and What is a Ponzi scheme?

I came across the post Explaining the Ponzi Scheme to a Fifth Grader recently.  I think the explanation pretty much nails it! Here it is:

Say you went to your sister and told her, if she gives you a dollar to invest today, you will give it back to her on Tuesday next week and she will get $1.25. Then you go to your other sister and tell her the same thing only you will give her $1.25 Wednesday. Then you go on to your dad and every person you know and tell them the same thing. As you’re going around asking for money from other people you know, you give your first sister her $1.25 and she’s happy to have twenty five cents extra just for letting you invest her $1. So she says, why don’t you keep my dollar and invest it some more? So you say, OK.

But the thing is, you weren’t really investing it were you? You were just using other people’s money to make it look like you are earning money for them. Do you see how you will eventually run out of money especially if they all ask for their money at the same time?

So she answers, Yeah, but can’t I just ask more money from more people? Yeah, you can do that but what if you ran out of people to ask and also ran out of time? That’s what happened to Bernie Maddox and that’s why he’s going to jail.

She then said, but they said he still has millions of dollars and he’s not really in jail. True.

About $68 billion lost summed up pretty nice!

The are a couple of lessons in this:

Know what you are investing in AND There’s no such thing as a free lunch!

You have to know where your money is going.  If not then you are asking for trouble.  From what I’ve been hearing people were throwing their money at Madoff so he could invest it.  They didn’t care how he did it so long as they got back huge returns.  I feel horrible for those people who lost their retirements and for all of the charitable organizations that were hurt.  But you have to ask the big questions and in this case the questions is Where is the money going to get those returns?!?

It may not be fun learning about personal finance and investing but a little knowledge goes a long way.  Sure it’s fun to say you’re getting 15% every year on your investment but you have to questions how!

Am I being too harsh?

I don’t mean to be.  These people were swindled and hurt!  The whole situation bothers me.  It seems there’s no real accountability with Wall Street any more.  There were warnings going back a decade about Madoff’s “investments” that went ignored.

Here’s a little lighter side that I also picked up from AMoores (where I saw the simple Ponzi explanation):

How do you feel about it all?

 

What Are Your Kids Gift Expectations?

The boys were a little puzzled about what to do on their last duck hunt

I hear some people complain that they have to buy expensive things for their kids because it’s what they expect.  Some don’t know what they are going to do this holiday season as times are getting tight.  How are we going to get little Johnny the latest (insert expensive popular toy here)?!?

Here’s what I say – Don’t!!

Where do your kids get their expectations from?  Do they get them from friends?  From television?  Those are influences but not the real source.  Children get their expectations from their parents!!

If you make it a habit to buy your kids expensive gifts for every occasion then you are setting yourself up for financial trouble!  The younger you start the worse it will be.  If you are already buying expensive items when the child is a toddler what are you going to do when they get older?  How about when they are in their teens?

It’s tough to tell kids they won’t be getting all the goodies they are used to. But if your spending is putting you in debt or you don’t have an adequate amount for savings and retirement then you better re-think your holiday spending plans!  Make your kids understand that they won’t be getting as much this year.

But all their friends are getting it!! Hmm.  Are their friends paying your bills?  Are they putting money away for retirement.  Are they making sure the mortgage is on time?  I didn’t think so.  Teach your child to take pride in who they are not what they have.  This lesson will be valuable for their entire life!

And you better practice what you preach!! Your child’s expectations come from watching you as well.  Don’t think you’re getting that new flat-screen TV or expensive cell phone while they don’t get the goods.  Parents must set the example for their kids.  We are not our stuff!!

Say that to yourself – We are not our stuff! It’s important.  Get this into your mind set and teach it to your children, not just by explaining but by setting the example.

I’m not saying don’t buy any gifts. But watch what you buy for your kids.  Yes, they love getting stuff.  I know I did as a kid.  But what is the child really getting out of it?  Are they using and loving the gift?  Not just for a day but for months, maybe years?  Or did they say it was their favorite for a few days then it joined all their other stuff in the corner?  Do your kids really appreciate the gift?  If your always buying them expensive stuff then your kids will start to see you a the person who will get them stuff.  Not for the person you are!  Think about that.

Stop the cycle of consumerism that hurts us in the end. You don’t have to buy your kids everything they want.  Let them love you as the great parent you are rather than the person who gets them stuff.  They won’t hate you if you don’t get them all the hottest toys.  If they say they do then think about the values you are teaching them.  We all want to make our kids happy but we need them to grow up responsible too.

Sign up with ING Direct and get a $25 bonus

Creative Commons License photo credit: Gaetan Lee

Not Having The Police At A Car Accident Can Cost You

Car crash

As I mentioned in an earlier article, our new car got into an accident on our vacation driving down to Virginia. The weather had recently turned to rain.  We were driving along the highway below the speed limit making sure to keep a safe distance from the car in front.  Suddenly traffic slowed down so we did as well.  Then I saw it coming in the rear-view mirror – BAMM!!  We just got hit from behind. The force was enough to throw us forward.  I moved to avoid the car in front but ended up clipping his fender.  All three cars pulled off to the side of the road.  Thank goodness no one was hurt!  The kids were shaken up (heck, we were all shaken up) but we were OK.  I got out and assessed the damage.  Man I didn’t realize how bad we were hit.  Back door was crunched inward.  At first I couldn’t even open it.  Our front has a small dent as well.  The other two cars – scratches at best.  It was an SUV Oreo and our poor mini van was the creamy middle.

Still a bit frazzled from the accident the other two drivers and I began to exchange automobile insurance information.  The person who hit me was in a rush to leave.  He didn’t think we needed to call the police since no one was hurt and we were exchanging info already.  Something didn’t feel right about this to me.  Thankfully, I listened to my Spidey sense and called the police.  A few minutes later an officer arrived and took all of our information.

What A Police Officer Does At The Accident

  • The officer took all of our pertinent information and heard separate descriptions of what happened from each of us. This was good because the officer gave us each a Driver Information Exchange Report which listed car insurance information, driver’s license #, address, phone number, car description VIN, and more.  After an accident it’s easy for a driver to forget to get a piece of information or write something down incorrectly.  Getting this from a police officer helps to prevent that.
  • I didn’t know it at the time but you could be given a ticket for driving too close and causing an accident (at least where I was). This may have been one of the key reasons the driver who hit me wanted to leave.  It ends up the officer gave him a written warning.  This is very important in that it gives official evidence that the officer felt it was the driver’s fault for causing the accident!  This will help in determining the fault for the insurance companies which will lead to me getting back my car insurance deductible from repairs on my accident claims (my deductible is $1000).
  • The officer filed a police report for the accident. The insurance companies will use this as well in determining the fault.  Without getting a police report you run the risk of a driver changing his story after the fact and it becomes an issue of his word against yours.  Again this will help in getting my deductible back.
  • Having an officer there helps keep everyone’s heads level. Things can get heated when there’s an accident.  I’d rather have the officer do the peace keeping than worry about it myself.  Also, I want to believe in the best in people but I don’t know the person who hit me from Adam.  An officer can confirm that this isn’t a criminal.  A little paranoid?  Yes.  Does it give me additional peace of mind at a stressful moment?  Heck yeah!

As you can see calling the police was important. With the written warning and the police report the automobile insurance company should see that the fault was on the other driver.  This will save me my insurance deductible of $1000.  Had I not called it could possibly cost me that $1000!

Creative Commons License photo credit: Mr Wabu

There May Be Unclaimed Money Or Property Waiting For You

Don't Let The Emperor Keep Your Unclaimed Property!!

Did you know that you might have property or money waiting for you to be claimed?

I had heard about it but didn’t really understand what it was.  Well, I recently came across the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.  They provide a list of state department sites where you can find your state and check for unclaimed property.  They also provide a link to MissingMoney.com which is a database of state unclaimed property records. ( I suggest you check both!).

“There’s no way any of that money is mine” you may be saying.  You’d be surprised!

Here is a list of accounts that may have unclaimed money (from the NYS Office of the State Comptroller):

  • Savings Accounts
  • Checking Accounts
  • Uncashed Checks
  • Telephone/Utility Deposits
  • Rental Security Deposits
  • Wages
  • Insurance Benefits/Policies
  • Safe Deposit Box Contents
  • Mortgage Insurance Refunds
  • Stocks and Dividends
  • Mutual Funds
  • Certificates of Deposit
  • Trust Funds
  • Estate Proceed
Have you moved, opened an account and forgot about it, change utility providers and forget about the deposit, forget to cash a dividend check?
All of these are reasons money can go unclaimed.  State laws require unclaimed funds to be turned over to the state after a set period of time (varies by state).  This money sits with the state waiting to be claimed.

I was skeptical so I tried it out.
Ends up I have unclaimed funds for dividends I never cashed.  Long ago my Grandmother bought us all a share of stock in our name.  The dividend checks were never that big so I probably misplaced or lost it.  I’ve since moved a number of times so the checks never caught up with me.  The NYS site provides a form that needs to be notarized and sent back to claim the money.  Check your state for exact details on claiming property.

So what are you waiting for?  Go check to see if there’s money waiting out there for you!

photo credit: Gaetan Lee

Dealing With Financial Problems With A Loved One

Purity

There may come a time when a financial problem comes up between you and a loved one. Maybe it’s a late payment that runs up some fees.  It could be an old debt that rears it’s ugly head again.  Perhaps someone did a little too much damage with credit card spending?  Whatever it is the issue will have to be addressed so a solution can be figured out.

Here are some things to consider when confronting your loved one about their financial management problems:

Don’t blame or accuse the other person for the problem.  Arguing and blaming doesn’t help.  When you lay blame and argue it’s like telling the other person that you’re right and they are wrong.  It may be that’s the case but nobody likes to hear that.  Start off a discussion like this and you immediately turn your loved one off to what you are saying.  Remember the situation has already happened.  The point now is to figure out how to solve it.

State the facts.  Talk about what has actually happened.  Try not to get your emotions involved.  This means no name calling.  It also means talking about the situation at hand and not bringing up any past discretion.  The facts will help you find a resolution.

Talk to your loved one about how the problem arose.  How did it get to this point?  Ask what they think can be done to solve the problem.  Offer your help.  Suggest some ideas of your own as a solution.  Assure your loved one that you are their for them and that you are in this together.  This leads us to…

Take accountability for the problem with your loved one. “But it wasn’t my fault” you might say.  Maybe not directly but by sharing in the responsibility you let your loved one know that you are there to help them.  The fact that this person is a loved one makes their pain yours as well to some extent.  Take that extra step with the olive branch and assure them that together you’ll figure out a solution.

Remember you want to open the person up to discussion. Getting into a financial mess is embarrassing for most.  Your loved one probably knows they screwed up somehow so they don’t want to be reminded of how bad a blunder it was.  Listen to them.  Work on finding a way to both fix the problem at hand and prevent it from happening in the future.

Hopefully you don’t have many financial problems with loved ones in your life.  If you come across any, these ideas should help you work things out.

photo credit: timsamoff

A CD Ladder Plan For Beginning Savers

a ladderAre you just starting off building up your savings? I’ve mentioned before that a great way to save is by putting money in a high yield savings account such as Capital One 360 Savings.  A way to make a little more interest is to open a Certificate of Deposit, or CD for short.

What is a CD?

Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia:

A certificate of deposit or CD is a time deposit, a financial product commonly offered to consumers by banks, thrift institutions, and credit unions.

CDs are similar to savings accounts in that they are insured and thus virtually risk-free; they are “money in the bank” (CDs are insured by the FDIC for banks or by the NCUA for credit unions). They are different from savings accounts in that the CD has a specific, fixed term (often three months, six months, or one to five years), and, usually, a fixed interest rate. It is intended that the CD be held until maturity, at which time the money may be withdrawn together with the accrued interest.

So if you are investing/buying a  CD you want to make sure you don’t need that money for the length of it’s term (otherwise you will have to pay a penalty to cash it in).

Here’s a great way a beginning saver can get started with CD’s:

  • Figure out a monthly amount of money you know you won’t need for 12 months.  Don’t be scared now.  It can be a small amount like $10.
  • Log into your ING account and go to their products page.  Click on CD’s and proceed to open up a $10 CD for a 12-month term.  (If you can afford more by all means do so.  Remember this is money you won’t touch for a year.)
  • Now every month do the same thing for a total of 12 months.
  • At the end of a year you will have 12 CDs worth more than $120 (imagine if you put more in each month?).  If you can, re-invest the CDs as they mature.  See if you can add to the amounts, again even if it’s only a few dollars.

“What have we done?  Anyone can buy CDs!”, you may ask?  Remember this is for a beginner who is starting to build up their savings.  Here is what the beginning saver has accomplished:

  • This builds up a habit of saving.  By putting the money in a CD we’re limiting the ability to take the money out (without a penalty at least).  Once this habit is in place a beginning saver may have the discipline to expand their savings.
  • It creates a great sense of self-esteem for the saver.  You get to see your CDs growing every month.  How great is it to see a year’s worth of savings?  Once a person realizes that saving is an achievable goal they will be more likely to continue!
  • You’re earning interest.  Not only have you saved but you’re savings are growing too!  You’re taking advantage of laddering.

Savings aren’t usually built overnight.  But by saving bit by bit you will see your savings blossom over time!

photo credit: naama

15 Things To Do With Your Economic Stimulus Check

The government Stimulus checks started going out on April 28th. If you are expecting one you should start looking for it in May (here’s a post listing the dates).

So what are you going to do with the extra money? Here are a list of ideas for using your stimulus check:

  • Pay off credit cards – If you have any credit card debt the stimulus check will be a great way knock some of that out! Paying off the debt gives you an instant return in savings of whatever you would have paid in interest fees. Psychologically, you will help in getting the debt monkey off your back.
  • Contribute to a Roth IRA – You can take your money and put it into your Roth IRA. For 2008 the contribution limit is $5000.
  • Start an emergency fund – If you don’t already have some sort of emergency fund (three to six months expenses seems to be the conventional wisdom) then your stimulus check is a good way to start one. Even if you have one you can use the money to increase your fund. A great place to start one is with ING Direct (you can even get a $25 bonus by opening your account with $250).
  • Contribute to a 529 college savings plan – You can use the money to help save for your kid’s education by putting the money in a 529 plan. Not only do you help save for college but you might get a tax break as well depending on your home state’s plan.
  • Pre-pay your mortgage – Take the money and make additional payments to your mortgage. By making additional payments you will own your home faster and pay less in interest. Just make sure the payments go towards the loan principle and not next month’s payment (also check that your lender will accept pre-payments without fees or penalties).
  • Go on vacation – You may have been planning to do this anyway so here is a good way to fund the vacation. Go and do something that will be a great experience for the family that you will all remember.
  • Improve the house – If there’s something you’ve needed to improve on your home, such as a furnace, you can use your stimulus check to pay for it (or at least help). Other options could be new paint job, carpet, furniture, appliances, etc…
  • Car maintenance – Have you been putting off a car repair? Need new brakes? New tires? Your stimulus money can fund it. If your car is about to go kaput your stimulus check could help pay for a new car (or a good new used car).
  • Learn to invest – Do some research and take the money and start investing. Companies such as Sharebuilder and Zecco offer low-fee investing. You have to do your homework with this option but it might be just enough money to start investing but not so much that you will be crazy worrying if you lose it. If you invest through Sharebuilder you can buy partial shares of Berkshire Hathaway B class shares. I hear that Warren Buffett is pretty good at investing.
  • Pay off student loans – If you have high interest student loans then your stimulus check can be a great way to help pay your student loans off. Just like with credit cards paying off your high interest student loans give you the instant return in savings of what you would have paid in interest.
  • Have a nice evening out – Take your spouse out to a really great meal. Get babysitting and go to that great restaurant you wanted to try. Go see that new show that everyone’s talking about. Make an experience you will always remember.
  • Get physically fit – The stimulus check should be enough to pay for a year’s gym membership (or more than a year). Use the stimulus check as a catalyst to get in shape and make your life healthier. Not sure about a gym? Find a class such as yoga or martial arts to join. Not into that? Buy a new bike and go riding. Or get yourself some good running sneakers and running attire. Join your local running club and enter a few small races. You never know, you may one day run a marathon.
  • Go to school – Use your stimulus check to enroll in a college course or two. This can be toward a degree or just continuing education. Hey, you can take a personal finance course. Maybe learn a second language?
  • Do nothing – This is the easiest of them all. Put the money in your savings account and forget about it. You don’t have to spend it or find any particular purpose for it. It doesn’t have to burn a hole in your pocket. One day you might find a good use for it but for now it adds to your savings.

Personally, we’re closer to the Do Nothing suggestion. Our stimulus check will come via direct deposit right into our ING account. We have no specific plans for the money so it will be added into our savings. Our check may pay parts of many of the suggestions or for none of them. Either way it will earn interest until it finds a home somewhere else.

Do you have any other ideas for using the economic stimulus check?

photo by Argenberg
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