F-R-E-E that spells “not free”

I’m sure you’re all familiar with that catchy little jingle. The one that goes, F-R-E-E that spells FREE, credit report dot com baby. I love the song (it’s catchy), but I hate the message. Personally I think freecreditreport.com deserves a swift backhand to the jugular. It infuriates me that the company markets itself as a free credit report service, when in fact it is a we-hope-you-don’t-realize-you-are-signing-up-for-a-monthly-subscription-service.

Yes, your initial report is free, but they charge the bajeezes out of ya 30 days later if you don’t cancel the contract you probably didn’t know you signed. Unfortunately, freecreditreport.coms  catchy tune has polluted the minds of millions of Americans and have become the industry standard.

Don’t worry though, there is a way to check your credit report, three times a year, for free. As in it ain’t gonna cost you a thing free. Annualcreditreport.com is THE ONLY legitimately free, no strings attached, way to check your credit report. No fishy business going on here (it’s endorsed by the federal government). All you do is punch in a little information and within a few minutes you have full access to your credit report. No contracts, no subscriptions, no sketchiness. Booya grandma!

So now that you know how to check your credit report, it’s important you understand WHY you should check it. I do so for one reason and one reason only; To make sure everything is a-okay. I can look back through all the credit accounts I’ve had, over the last seven years, and double check that everything was reported to the credit agencies properly. I checked yesterday and let me tell you, it felt great seeing Sallie Mae showing “Paid in full.”

Not only can you check on the accuracy of any information on your report (and dispute any inaccurate information), but it also serves as the best tool to help spot identity theft. All it takes to open an account is just a little bit of personal information. What if someone has opened an account in your name without you knowing? If everything looks familiar on your credit report, than you’re probably in the clear. If there are some random credit card accounts, held with companies you’ve never heard of, there’s a good chance you’re the newest victim of identity theft.

Keeping up with your credit report (even if you have no debt at all) is just as important as maintaining a budget. It’s one piece of the whole personal finance puzzle. A very important piece mind you. If you haven’t checked your credit report in the last six months, go do it now at annualcreditreport.com (and if you’re wondering if I was compensated for this post or sponsored by them in any capacity, I wasn’t. Although, if they offered me compensation I would gladly take it :))

When’s the last time you checked your credit? Have you ever been fooled by a freecreditreport type company? Ever been the victim of identify theft? Was it as big of a headache as I imagine it would be?

Chase Sucks

I opened my first checking account with Washington Mutual when I was 16 years old . I loved the bank and loved having a debit card in high school (it made me feel cool, even though I really wasn’t). Fast forward, eight years later. WaMu goes under, gets bought out by Chase, and the whole world comes to an end… almost.

I recently received a letter from Chase indicating they would be making some changes to my checking account. I usually get letters like this every few months, but the changes are almost always minor things I don’t care about. This letter was different…

As of February 8th, 2011 those who have a Chase Checking account will be charged a $10.00 monthly service fee.

Hold the phone?! Let me get this right. You are going to charge me $120 a year to access my own money? Heck No Techno! That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.

If you want to avoid paying the monthly fee, you have to meet one of the following criteria…

– have at least one direct deposit of $500.00 (or more)
– or keep a balance of $1,500.00 (or more) in your checking account
– or keep an average balance of $5,000.00 or more across multiple chase accounts (checking, savings, investments, etc).
– or pay at least $25.00/month “in other qualifying account fees (not including the $10 monthly service fee).”

Could I meet Chase’s demands and avoid the $10/month checking account fee? Of course. But I’m a man of principle (and stubbornness) and I refuse to negotiate with financial terrorists. That’s right….terrorists!

My solution to the problem is quite simple. Change banks. Girl Ninja and I are now proud customers of Wells Fargo. It’s probably the second best decision I’ve made (the first best was starting this blog, the third best was marrying Girl Ninja…kidding…kind of).

I’m a firm believer of voting with my dollar, and in this case, I’m taking my dollars to another bank. Have any of you seen any changes to your financial accounts recently? Did anyone else get this letter from Chase? Let’s pretend your bank gave you the same letter Chase gave me. Would you just suck it up and make sure you meet one of their demands, or would you say “Screw you Chase” and move on to another bank that doesn’t have requirements for free checking?

Peanut Butter and Jelly

Girl Ninja and I live in a very unique neighborhood. About 20 years ago a couple decided to begin a marriage Bible study in their home. Over the last two decades that Bible study has exploded. There are now over 60 couples (spread out across 10 different bible studies) that meet together each week. As I’ve mentioned before, Girl Ninja and I joined the “young couples” study. Last night we had the opportunity to attend a marriage seminar. And let me tell you, It. Was. Awesome.

The speaker said some really profound, insightful, and down right funny things. There were some incredible nuggets in his message and one of them was this… “Your spouse will never be you, and you will never be your spouse.” Seems pretty simple right? Well, if you’re anything like me, you often forget that.

Girl Ninja and I are completely different. I’m loud, obnoxious, impatient, apathetic. She is compassionate, reserved, and gentle. While our personalities are different, I’m convinced we are perfect complements. Like peanut butter and jelly, we are unique creations that work together to form a divine combination.

Last night was a much needed reminder that I am peanut butter. Girl Ninja is not. And as much as I want her to be peanut butter, she is jelly. She will always be jelly.

So what does this mean for us financially? It means that while I may be an excessive saver, it would be ignorant of me to demand Girl Ninja share an equal zeal for investing, saving, and all the other nerdy PF things I love.

We shouldn’t be trying to CHANGE each other, but instead work towards COMPLETING each other. She teaches me to give money, so we aren’t bound by it. She reminds me that we save money, so we can spend it. She is my perfect complement. She is my jelly.

How has your significant other impacted your personal and financial life? Is your partner your jelly? Any peanut butter with peanut butter relationships out there?

p.s. Men, never call your woman jelly, I don’t think it would go over well.

Am I a puppy murderer?

Girl Ninja and I don’t own any pets. Mom and Dad Ninja, however, have always been dog lovers. In fact, at one point we had 12 greyhounds in our house (we fostered them until they could find a good home). They’ve scaled things back, however, and now only have three dogs, a boxer and two pugs. Allow me to introduce them…

While I’ve always known my parents loved their three dogs more than their three children, I never really realized just how deep that love ran. That is, until Bella (the boxer) started having knee problems (apparently her knee had completely blown out). She could no longer prance around my parents yard chasing the two smaller (and stupider) pugs. Concerned for their beloved Bella, my parents took her to the vet.

After a few consultations with two different veterinarians, Mom and Dad Ninja realized they really only had three options (listed cheapest to most expensive): put her down, amputate the bad leg, perform a knee replacement surgery.

Can ya guess which option my parents went with? You’re right, if you guessed knee replacement surgery. I don’t remember the total cost for the procedure, but it was upwards of $2,000. TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS!

Now I ain’t no puppy murder, but there is no freakin’ way I’m dropping that kind of coin on a pet. That’s like buying 4 iPads, or two 50″ LED TVs, or 4,000 Jack in the Box tacos.

It’s easy for me to think my parents are insane for opting for the surgery over amputation or putting her down, seeing that I… A) have no where near as much liquidity as they do and B) Bellas not my dog. I know my parents made the right choice for them, but I think my “vet” threshold would be about $500. Anything over that and the dog is going to doggy heaven, if there is such a place.

What the largest vet bill you’d be willing to pay ($500, $1,000, $10,000)? At what point does the well being of your pet go from a moral obligation (feeding, general health, etc) to an excessive financial burden? Anyone out there have tales of uber crazy animal fanatics that have dropped a small fortune on their pet?

Does the economy have you down?

recession plans

If you’ve turned on the TV, flipped through a magazine, or listened to the radio at any point in the last three years I’m sure you’ve noticed America is falling apart. Unemployment is up. The Stock Market is down. The world is coming to an end. But for the Ninja household, and I’m sure many others, we’ve escaped the doom and gloom unscathed.

In fact, we’ve kicked some major butt during this depressed economy. I managed to pay off $28,000 of student loan debt, put $20,000 in savings, and contribute over $30,000 to my retirement accounts all since I graduated college in May 2007. Yeah, 2007, you know, right when the markets took a turn for the worst.

While I wont argue that the last three years have been extremely difficult for some groups of people (eg auto workers in Detroit), I would like to remind the majority of Americans that they need not participate in (or at least be completely disabled by) the recession.

Yes unemployment is at 9%, one of the highest points in recent history, but guess what. That means there is an EMPLOYMENT rate of 91%. That means 9 out of 10 people that want to work, can. It’s all about perspective.

Click here to see my Stick Figure Blog cartoon that shows what 9% unemployment is really like

Don’t get me wrong, I know there are good/honest/hardworking people out there that can’t seem to catch a break. There’s always two sides to every story. That’s why I’ll end today’s post here and leave you with three simple questions…

How have you fared the last three years?

How have you prospered during this time?

How have you been hurt?


Update: Apparently this post has been perceived as arrogant by a few readers. The intention was not to brag and say I am better than anyone else, cause let’s face it, I’m not. It was simply to show that I have not been affected by the recession. Since I have been fortunate enough to survive the economic crisis, I wanted to see if others had as well. That was the primary purpose of the post; to see how people have fared through the recession.

I’m not dumb. I see the news. I know people  are suffering. Some because they are lazy and use the recession as an excuse to wallow in self pity, and others that are working their tail off to try and find employment, but haven’t had any luck. If me sharing my personal success is considered arrogant, I don’t know why I don’t get the same angry comments on Net Worth updates when I have an increase.

Bad friend

bad friend

I have a friend, well an acquaintance really, who did a pretty shady thing the other day. We were at a burrito shop ordering food. My buddy paid for his $5 burrito with a $20 bill. He collected his change and went to grab a table. As he went to put the change in his wallet he noticed something funny. He had a little over $24 in his hands. He had been given an incorrect amount of change back, $10 more to be exact. Yes, he is a bad friend.

So what did this acquaintance do. He bragged to me that it must be his lucky day and put the $24 in his pocket. Umm, excuse me dude, but isn’t that stealing? It’s pretty clear the guy meant to give you $14 back, but accidentally gave you a $20 instead of a $10. While homeboy was beaming like a middle school girl at a Justin Beiber concert, I was just angry. How could he put the money in his wallet?

Justin Beiber doesn't steal

So guess what I did, I confronted him. Kudos to me right? Wrong. I only get partial kudos. Sure, I confronted him for stealing and told him to go get proper change, but that is all I did. He argued with me saying “It’s not his fault they made a mistake” and “The shop gets so much business $10 isn’t gonna kill them.” He was either too stubborn or too STUPID to see his immorality. Instead of cause a scene, I just stopped talking about it and proceeded to eat my delicious french fry filled burrito of epic glory.

But now, I sit here wondering, Did I do enough? Should I have pushed my friend harder to do the right thing? Should I have told the cashier about the mistake so he could take matters in to his own hands? Should I have called the SWAT team and told them I was eating lunch with a big jerk face?

Instead of stand up for morality, I avoided confrontation. Well not any more! You hear that Mr. Burrito Shop Stealing guy? I’m not scared of you. Try and pull that crap again when I’m around and I’ll rat you out.

Have any of you ever received more than you should have (too much change, a large drink when you paid for a small, etc)? Have you ever wanted to confront someone who you know is blurring the line of morality? Have you, ever done anything sketchy like this?

I remember one time, when I was in middle school, I went to the local dollar store with a friend. This friend had sticky fingers and was in the mood for stealing some candy (I know, I have to get me some new friends). We got to the candy aisle and I made sure all was clear, yes I was the lookout for this epic heist. Although I was way to big of a chicken to ever steal anything myself, it didn’t stop me from pointing out the candy I wanted my friend to steal for me. That’s right, I’m responsible for the theft of a Kit Kat bar and a piece of Bubble Yum from the Dollar Tree in Seattle, WA. I hope the candy gods above will find it in their heart to forgive me, and if they don’t, oh well, it was one darn good candy bar. I have a feeling I’m not the only one who has Quasi-stole something. Care to throw yourself under the bus with me? Do you have any bad friends?

Financial to a fault

I admit it. I’m a huge dork. I’m constantly running numbers through my head. Last night, as Wife Ninja was making her best attempt to fall asleep (at 9pm!), I asked a handful of questions about her work schedule. While I was trying to beat around the bush, Wife Ninja knew exactly what I was doing. I was trying to count how many days she would work this month, so I could then calculate what her paycheck would be. She made it pretty clear she just wanted to go to sleep and it was time for me to stop bothering her.

This isn’t the first, and definitely wont be the last time, my obsession with numbers has caused a hiccup in my 6 week old marriage. No, I’m pretty much a pro at making the wifey feel overwhelmed by money. She loves to shop, and I hate it. So it makes sense to have her do the grocery, household, and decor shopping. While she enjoys the shopping aspect of it, she HATES the coming home part. Every time she would return from a shopping trip, I’d ask “How much did you spend?”

I asked what I thought was a harmless question, but soon discovered it was anything but. Wife Ninja felt as though I didn’t trust her to spend our money appropriately. I, however, wasn’t asking because I thought she’d go blow all our cash, but because I like to keep a running balance of all of our credit card charges in my head. I didn’t even think about the fact that it could be interpreted as me smothering her. Yeah, I know. I’m a big dumb dumb head and should have been more sensitive, but hey I’m still learning here.

Last but not least, the burrito factor. What is the burrito factor you ask? It’s a currency system I use. Here in San Diego, they have this tasty treat called a California burrito. It is essentially a Carne Asada burrito with one special ingredient. French Fries!!!! I promise you it’s not as gross as it sounds, and it is nowhere near as weird those Pennsylvanians that put french fries on their salads…

Anyhow, back to the burrito currency. I can get a California burrito for $5 at the local taco stand. Not only is that sucker scrumtrulescent, but it also fills me up. Now, whenever I go out to eat and look at the menu, I run the burrito factor through my mental calculator. It looks a little something like this… “Okay, this salad is gonna cost me $12.50, which is the same price as 2.5 California burritos. Plus the salad is probably only going to fill me up 50%. So that means this salad is gonna cost the equivalent of 5 California burritos to get full. Death to salad!

So ya see, there are times where money shouldn’t be on the mind….like when your wife is trying to go to sleep 😉 I guess it’s pretty easy to be “financial to a fault.” Do you have any silly examples of your crazy financial/number habits? Or do you have your own “burrito factor” system (i.e. a Starbucks factor or Video Game factor)?