Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cheap flights for the holidays

Cheap flights for the holidays

Are you looking for ways to find cheaper flights for the holidays? It is really tough trying to find good deals during prime season. If you are flying around Christmas or Easter breaks it can be a really expensive proposition. I am stuck in the mode that some things should still cost what they cost 20 years ago, for me a flight should cost $200 to anywhere in the U.S. A pair of dress shoes should cost $30 and a loaf of bread should cost a buck. Unfortunately, this doesn't always work out for me. So you really have to look around for the airline flight deals. Hear are my tips on reducing the cost of airline tickets during the holidays.

  1. First tip, shop early but don't worry if there are not any good flight prices 2 months in advance of your trip. During the holidays the airline companies will re-task planes to popular destinations like Florida so they can accomodate more travelers.

  2. Shop frequently, you might have to check several airline websites everyday for several weeks before you find a good deal.

  3. Shop at different times of the day, evening, midnight, early morning. Sometimes the airlines release new fairs during odd hours and you could get lucky and find a great deal.

  4. If you can be flexible on your dates and departure times. Some times moving just one day earlier or later can mean your flight is $100 cheaper. Remember everyone wants to travel on December 26th so they can be home for Christmas but after that it is off to Florida or somewhere warm.

  5. Look for an early morning or late night flight. Most people don't want to get up at 3:30 am to goto the airport, however, if you are cheap like me you'll do it if it saves you a few bucks.

  6. Check multiple travel sites like Yahoo Travel (Fare chaser is really good).

  7. Check the airlines websites directly.

  8. Use discount airlines, generally the hub airline in your city will have the most non-stops but the discount airline might have one connection, however if you are a family of 4 saving $100 per person is a big deal and it might be worth wasting an additional 90 minutes during the layover some where.

  9. Be flexible on your departure airport. If might make sense for you to drive 2 hours to another airport if they have a cheaper flight.

  10. Look for one way ticket deals. Some times you might have to fly down on one airline and then fly back on another. Providing you are using the same airport you really won't even know the difference.

Tim Hortons Stock Up - Starbucks Stock Down

Tim Hortons Stock Up - Starbucks Stock Down

Wow that coffee is hot? Or is it? Why is Tim Horton's (THI) stock doing so well and Starbuck's (SBUX) struggling? Tim's is practically a religion in Canada. I am a huge fan as well. I usually stop in everyday and pickup a coffee. When I visit my customers or one of our factories I like to stop in and pickup some donuts and muffins. So what is the attactions to Tim Horton's vs. Starbucks? Starbucks seemed unstoppable and had perfected the feeling of "I just paid $16 for 2 coffees and 2 hot chocolates but for some reason on feel good about it". On the other hand, when I visit Tim's and get the same order it only 5 bucks.

I bought the stock the day of the IPO. The thing that convinced me to buy the stock was the ever present line of 12 cars in the drive through each morning on the way to work. People like the product. I actually could have bought is at a lower price after the IPO but that is ok. I am pretty happy with the investment so far. The really encouraging thing is that they really are only on the fringes outside of Canada. I think they have like 300 some stores in the U.S. vs. over 2000 stores in Canada.

In keeping up with my home work on the stock, which Jim Cramer always recommends I do. I listened to the 3rd quarter conference call results for Tim Horton's. They have great growth and the finished the first round of a stock buy back and they have annonced a second stock buy back. Also in some recent news Tim's just annouced that theyhave an agreement with Wal-Mart to provide food services in new Wal-Mart supercenters.

Just added a video from Morningstar on Starbucks.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Is China stock market a bubble?

Is China Stock Market a bubble?
I read an interesting article about the Chinese ecomony the other day in BusinessWeek. The article really reinforced to me the point that I have been thinking about recently. Is the Chinese stock market it growing too fast and is it a bubble that will most likely burst? BusinessWeek points out that a large percentage of the businesses in China are playing their stock markets and investing in each other's IPOs. The growth of the companies profits is inflated by their stock market returns. If you remove the companies portfolio returns the profit is dramatically reduced. The article points out that the same thing happened to Japan years ago.

I think that it is perfectly okay for businesses to investing their extra cash into other companies and investments. However, the problem is, a lot of people in China and outside China do not realize how much of the profit these companies are generating comes from their ability to run a good business or are they currently just geting lucky investing in a hot stock market and riding a wave? A few questions to ask yourself about your portfolio?

  1. Do you have mutual funds that are investing in China?

  2. Do you have individual company stock that is invested in Chinese companies?

  3. Do you understand how much of the companies earnings are actually coming from the stock market versus the actual operating profit?

The bottom line is as Jim Cramer always says, make sure you do your home work before and during your investing. With the Chinese market up as much as it is I am afraid we are headed for a bubble. Checkout this book on investing in China

Should you buy a Mac computer

Should you buy a Mac computer?
Thinking about buying a Mac computer? They are pretty slick. Check out this video on reasons why you should or shouldn't buy a Mac? The main reason we are thinking about getting a Mac computer is for the creative side. Things like video editing, garage band, and graphics design. My family is really starting to get into these types of applications.

Not sure a Mac is right for you check out the book Mac for Dummies. Mac OS X Leopard For Dummies (For Dummies (Computer/Tech))

We were thinking about putting the iMac in the kitchen which really isn't a problem since everything is intergrated into the monitor. You really only need to plug it in and your are good to go. It connects to our wireless network so we can surf the web. Printing isn't a problem either since we have a wireles print server. I also really like the Mac's commercials were they pick on Windows Vista. Shop for iMac Computer

Monday, November 19, 2007

Invest like Warren Buffet - How to pick the right stocks

Invest like Warren Buffet - How to pick the right stocks

Are you tire of trying to pick the right stocks. Just buying whatever billionaire Warren Buffett bought might be a great way to go. You don't even have to buy it the same day. Even if you bought months after his share purchases, you could still get up to twice the return of the Standard & Poor's 500 Index during the past three decades.

For example, investors would have earned an annual return of 24.6% by buying the same stocks as Buffett after he disclosed his holdings in regulatory filings, sometimes four months later, according to a soon-to-be-released study by Gerald Martin of American University in Washington and John Puthenpurackal of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. The S&P 500 rose 12.8% a year in the same period.

It is really hard to beat the pants off the S&P 500, however, by following Warren's buying and selling," said Mohnish Pabrai, who manages $600 million at Pabrai Investment Funds in Irvine, Calif, you can. So how do you find out what good old Warren is buying? Check out stockpickr.com for a list of Warren's latest stocks.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Stock picks online - pick stocks like the pros

Stock picks online - pick stocks like the pros

I read a interesting article in Businessweek about a new website stockpickr.com that helps you with your stock picks. Here is what the article said.

Stockpickr.com was created by hedge fund hotshot James Altucher. The site helps investors see what the smart money is doing. Last year, Altucher got an offer he couldn't refuse. A much larger fund would give him more than $100 million to invest, leveraging the strategies that he had perfected, however he had to give up everything else on his plate. It was an offer Altucher, 39, could refuse, and did.

Instead, he and his fund partner, Dan Kelly, 32, decided to take their investing strategy to the masses. The result is the Web site Stockpickr.com, where investors can view the portfolios and latest publicly available moves of hundreds of successful pros, including Warren Buffett, hedge fund great George Soros, or mutual fund manager and Yale professor Martin Whitman. The best part about it is the site is that it is free. You just need to sign up to be a member. I think this site along with the Jim Cramer tools that I have listed in a previous post should get you on your way to some excellent and educated stock picks. And remember when I say education you really do need to do some research before you pick a stock.

Several million people have visited the site so far this year, and traffic has quadrupled since January. In April, Altucher sold his controlling stake to TheStreet.com in a deal that valued the venture at about $10 million.The Internet has allowed investors to tap into a world of data about companies and markets with the click of a mouse. But the flood of information can be overwhelming and difficult for ordinary investors to harness.

Now a new set of Web sites is springing up, like Stockpickr and GuruFocus.com, to help investors tame this information glut and use it to make smarter investing decisions. Altucher adds his own perspective on Stockpickr, focusing on the footsteps of value managers, those who buy deeply undervalued and out-of-favor companies. The site's visitors also form a virtual community whose members interact with each other, answering one another's questions and sharing knowledge about various strategies.Stockpickr's front page features annotated updates of the latest pro portfolios posted by Altucher and Kelly along with new ideas they've tested using historical stock data. Recently, Stockpickr was featuring the latest portfolios from Harvard's endowment, mutual fund star John Osterweis, and stocks whose characteristics are similar to those Buffett has invested in.

The great part is the site is free; it makes money from advertising. Following the moves of successful managers just from Securities & Exchange Commission filings can be extremely complicated for a layperson, says Tong Yao, a finance professor at the University of Arizona whose research helped uncover the advantages of piggyback investing. "Web sites like Stockpickr that can process the information and provide ready-made investment signals that are proven to work will be good news for investors," he says.

Stockpickr isn't the answer for someone who wants an automated investing plan. It doesn't produce a single preferred portfolio or replace the need to sort through many potential stock plays; it's more of an idea factory. One of the site's most popular features is a function to compare ordinary investors' picks with those of the pros. More than 100,000 people have posted their own portfolios. Their performances are tracked for all to see. The site spits back an Amazon.com (AMZN )-like suggestion list of stocks owned by professional money managers whose holdings are similar.

Users who post their picks and commentary give Stockpickr considerably more vitality than other sites, says Roger Ehrenberg, president of the research firm Monitor110: "It's not like a message board. It's more like a collaborative community."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

How to stop using credit cards - getting out of debt

How to stop using credit cards - getting out of debt
Now what you have worked yourself into a corner with over using your credit cards? It is a common problem, many people are struggling with personal credit card debt. Plastic is just too easy, and on top of it all, unless you look at your past statements you can't remember what you spent all the money on. Now when you go to some places if it is below $25 they don't even have you sign anymore, they make it too easy to use your credit card. In fact, I crossed the boarder the other day and I could go to the credit card only lane, when I came back on the other side they didn't have a credit card only lane and I was kinda disappointed. Another example, I went to park at the airport the other day and you can't even get into the parking lot with out a credit card.

Here are some simple steps to follow to help you stop using credit cars:
  1. The first step is to talk with direct family members about the situation. All family members must agree to reduce spending until your family is out of this crisis. This should mean closing charge accounts and not using credit cards. If you feel the need to use plastic switch to a debit Master Card or some other debit card which only works if you actually have money in your checking account.
  2. You should contact creditor(s) and explain your situation to them. Try to get them to work out a plan so that obligations are repaid. Most credit card company's would rather have you pay them back then default on the loan and stop paying your bill.
  3. A lot of experts will recommend the you not carry your credit cards with you and to just leave them at home. This is easier said than done in a lot of situations. Again based on my stories above at the airport and bridge. The idea is if you want to use them, you will have to go home and then return to the store. If the item you want to buy is a necessity then you will have access to the credit. If it is an impulse purchase you have the travel time back home to reconsider.
  4. Keep your credit card limits low, if you have a $500 or $1000 limit and you can not pay that back, what makes you think you can payback $2000 or $5000? The key is, if you are already having issues paying back your debt on a low limit, then don't ask for credit limit increases. This is a solution that many try that ends up in disaster in the long run.
  5. Some experts say don't use credit for consumable items such as food if you do not pay in full each month. I agree witht this comment, but is is so easy to do. I also think that you should not pay for things over time on a credit card. Probably the most important rule, don't borrow money from a credit card borrow money from a bank. I wrote another post called finding cheaper loans that I suggest you check out.
  6. Do you ever hear those commercials on the radio about debt consolidation? Do you ever wonder how they can advertise so much? Most consumer finance companies that offer this service charge very high interest rates. These companies will appear to be your friends but you need to watch it very carefully. If you are not good at understanding contracts, or even if you are you should have a family member or friend look over the contract first with you to make sure you understand what you are getting in to. I would suggest you look for a company that is really a not for profit debt resolution company. You won't hear these guys advertising on the radio because they don't have tons of profit to spend on advertising. Funny how that works.
  7. Debt guidline: If you have more than 15 percent of your disposable income in debt payments, you should take steps to reduce your credit use. Disposable income is your net income after taxes and other payroll deductions. So lets do the math, if you bring home $1000 per month then you should not have more that $150 a month in debt payments. This doesn't mean that you are just making minimum payments either because you will never pay it off and you really won't be able to borrow any more. Remember the credit card companies don't care if you ever pay it off as long as you are making the minimum payment.
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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Finding Cheaper Loans

Find Cheaper Loans

A popular topic of mine is how to get out of debt and paying off your credit cards, so it seems a little funny to me to be talking about finding cheaper loans. However, use of debt is required by most people and if used properly most people will have a better life with some debt vs. without debt. Personally, I feel that debt should only be used for bigger purchases like homes and cars. Also when you can afford them some toys like a boat or and RV. However, on the toys I encourage you to buy a nice used one and pay cash for it or take out as small a loan as you can or as short a time period as you can. The key thing to remember is the loan for the toy last a lot longer then the initial euphoria of getting the new toy.

Updated with news story on Payday loans and their dangers.

Anyway, I am rambling, let get to the point you are reading this article to find out how to find cheaper loans. The WSJ had an interesting article on the fact that credit unions generally have cheaper rates on car loans, personal loans, credit cards, and home equity loans. For instance the average 48 month car loan at a credit union is at a credit union is almost 2% lower per year than most banks.

Credit unions can provide you with cheaper loan rates because they don't pay income taxes. On the other hand banks have to pay these income taxes. Credit unions were orginally designed to cater to the savings and lending needs of lower to middle class consumers that were ignored by traditional banks. Generally, you had to work for a particular company or live in a particular area to be able to join the credit union. Not anymore, most credit unions are open to virtually anyone. If you are looking to find a credit union in your area you can search by zip code at CUNA's Website.

Paying for that flat screen TV: A lot of people will be getting new flat screen TVs this year as prices fall. Most will be tempted to put it on the plastic. Remember if you put it on a credit card you will start incurring finance charges after the first month that you do not pay the balance. Usually this will be at a very high rate, 18 to 22%. As an alternative why not finance it through the store you are buying it from. Don't sign up for the no payments until next year trick. This will just postpone the problem. I would rather see you buy that big screen TV with a 12 months no interest. Then divide the total cost by 11 and make that payment each month. I say 11 because a lot of times this type of financing is also a trick. Sometimes you have to pay the thing off before 12 months or you incur finance charges on the whole balance even though you made payments. So here is the simple math for example:

  • Say you bought a Sharp LCD 42 inch 1080p HD TV total price out the door was $2200.
  • 2200 divided by 11 is $200 per month.
  • When the bill comes each month right the check for $200. If you can do more that would be even better. $225, $250, $300 whatever, just pay the thing off. Remember if you do it this way it really does allow you to buy someting on time and it doesn't cost you a penny more.

If the store you are shopping at doesn't have this type of financing then shop around. You will find a store that does. As soon as you walk out the door they will improve their offer. You watch.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

How to improve your search engine page ranking

How to improve your search engine ranking

I found an interesting article on Keys to search engine visibility over at the MiamiHerald.com. Improving the page rank of websites is one of the first thing that most people ask when they are doing a new web site either for their business or and online business. Here is what the article said along with my comments.

Good search engine results are vital to the success of a business. If a company is struggling to get traffic to its site, perhaps there is a need to seek out a firm that specializes in search engine optimization for websites -- which are natural results from a search engine -- and search engine marketing -- which are the paid ad link results in a search. Andrew Wetzler, president of Boca Raton-based MoreVisibility, spoke to The Miami Herald about what businesses both large and small should keep in mind in order to get the best possible search results for their websites.

This advice generally works for large companies however, if you are starting a brand new business you are probably not going to drop serveral thousands of dollars or even more to hire a search engine consultant. Most of the time you are going to have to do it yourself. I recommend the book SEO in an hour a day. It is easy to read and it gives you the basics on starting out on the search engine optimization trail. This book covers things like:

  1. Keywords research
  2. Understanding your competion
  3. How to develop links to your site.
  4. Meta tags
  5. Page names

He explained that keys to a successful search are to have strong content, the right keywords, other related sites that link to your site and a site design that does not have too many ''bells and whistles'' such as Flash programming features, so that a search engine can understand the site.

This is good advice and most people don't know this. The number one thing that you can do in your site to increase your website traffic is to add content. When they say content they mean text. Written words is the number one thing. Search engines like Google, Yahoo, etc do not see anything but text. Keywords, that is what they are looking for?

Q: What trends are you seeing now in search?
A: One of the most interesting things that is gaining momentum is the impact of social search on how companies market online. We do a fair amount of writing of blogs for companies and set the blog up and put all the pieces together properly. The reason that that is important is that blogs by nature are content rich and very targeted to what the subject matter is. The more content that is posted on a continual basis, the greater the likelihood that the site will do well naturally with search engines.

I read an article the other day over at another site about making money online and they described exactly that. Blogs are content rich. Mostly text, the format doesn't really matter. I a lot of cases the formats are the same if you are using a blog like blogger.com. Again keywords are the most important thing. I found a great tool at SEO book which you should check out, it allows you to put in a key word and it gives you as many variations to that word that search engines typically search for.

One of the keys to success in SEO is to target the long tail in key words. Their is an interesting book with the same title, The Long Tail. Basically, the long tail is half of a bell curve in a normal distribution curve. Don't worry about getting to the top of the search engine pages on one key word like 'lawyers" or "attorney". It will be very tough for most people starting out to get to the top of the search engine results page with this type of strategy. However it you have a site that specializes in divorce attorneys in New York specializing in helping men, you might have a better chance in getting good search engine ranking with that site.

Q: What sort of changes have there been in the industry in the last decade?
A: Not only has paid search become more important but also things like analytics, and that's a real scary term for business owners, large or small. It's extremely important that you have an analytics tool in place that can look at the traffic that's coming into your site and see which traffic is converting and which isn't and modify campaigns accordingly. Several years ago, people could only measure by how much traffic did I get and how much money is in the bank, how many sales did I get. Today we can segment so much more efficiently than we ever have before -- which keywords are driving conversions, which landing page is generating a better result, which engine converts better.

This is great advice. Analytics are tools offered by a lot of different sites. I found that Google Analytics to be a great tool. As I mentioned above, keywords are key and so is the long tail, with Google analytics I have found that some of my sites have more than 400 different keywords that people are searching for. With that knowledge you can add additional keyword rich content to your site to help push up your search engine rankings..

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The 4 hour work week- how to quit your day job, yeah!

The 4 hour work week - how to quit your day job. yeah!

I read a great book this summer call "The Four Hour Workweek". It covers how Tim Ferriss when from making $40K per year to $40K per month. Fasinating book he covers very systematically how to get rich. His method is not easy and it is not for those who are unmotivated but it does give you a step by step plan on how to quit your day job and have a very short work week. He covers everything from using virtual assistants in India, to creating the product that make you a lot of money.

Quiting your day job is perhaps the dream of most people. How many times do you ever meet someone who really likes there day job? I only know a few people, one is a teacher at a local community college. He has great hours and gets like 5 months off per year and is usually at home by 4 pm everyday.

For more information on Tim's method's check out his website The 4 hour workweek

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Create your own will with Legalzoom or Quicken Legal

How to do your own legal work, create your own will with Legalzoom or Quicken Legal.

Did you know that you can create your own will? You can use online services like Legalzoom or you can use do it yourself with Quicken Legal. Creating your own legal documents can save you a ton of cash. Most people think that they need a lawyer to do a will or power of attorney or even a trust. At minimum you should have a will but in order to really protect you and your family from probate you should have a trust. Believe it or not you can create and register a trust on your own.