While reading the intriguing autobiography of successful investor and mathematician Edward Thorp, it was mentioned that he was a newspaper delivery boy. Warren Buffett was famously a newspaper delivery boy, and still conducts a newspaper-throwing contest at annual Berkshire shareholder meetings. Coincidence?
Newspaper delivery boys and girls had to develop responsibility, dependability, self-motivated, and people skills (they often had to do the bill collecting). I don’t know if there are any such paperboys/papergirl positions left in the country. Here’s a nostalgic write-up about what it was like: Whatever Happened to the Newspaper Delivery Boy?
According to varioussources, these famous business leaders, actors, activists, scientists, and even presidents were also paperboys. (I guess gender stereotypes applied? Kathy Ireland is the only girl on the list.)
H. Ross Perot
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Martin Luther King Jr.
Harry S. Truman
I wasn’t a paperboy, or especially entrepreneurial when I grew up. Sometimes I would hoard my lunch money and just go hungry until I got home in the afternoon, but that was about it. I suppose I didn’t have a lot of wants, so I didn’t need a lot of money. I do remember being impressed by the kid in our class who bought candy in bulk from Sam’s Club and sold it individually to students.
What is the modern equivalent of a paperboy? I propose the YouTube video channel. If you are an entrepreneurial kid who wants to develop the skills that will help you navigate the business world in the way that newspaper carriers did in the 1970s, these days you probably have a YouTube channel. A lot of them seem to review toys, but others act out skits, cover travel destinations, or discuss current events. Here are the applicable skills:
Responsibility and dependability. You may not have to show up every day at 5am, but if you don’t create content regularly, you won’t grow an audience.
Self-motivation. There are probably some pushy parents out there, but I think your passion for the subject will show through in the videos.
Media creation skills. You will learn the technical skills required to set up equipment, edit audio/video, and all that behind-the-scenes stuff.
Talking in front on a camera. You must communicate clearly with your audience. This is similar to talking in front of a group of people.
Advertising negotiations? Some of the bigger channels have brand sponsors beyond just the pre-roll YouTube ads. The kids may have to get involved with these discussions.
Well, it’s official, Toys R Us (and Babies R Us) has announced that it will close all of its 700+ US stores by the end of the year, while other reports have the business running out of cash by May. They stated that they “expect” to accept gift cards and rewards dollars for another 30 days. However, I would spend any gift cards or store credit as soon as possible. We went over the weekend to do just that, and most of the “commodity” items like food, formula, and diapers were already starting to sell out. According to AOL, about 17.7 million in Borders gift cards were left outstanding when they shut down in 2011.
I’ve been reading a lot of nostalgic stories about Toys R Us, but my wife and I both commented that we hardly ever went into Toys R Us when we were kids. Even counting my visit this weekend, I’m pretty sure I’ve been inside one less than 10 times in my life. Sure, we saw the commercials on TV, but we never visited the physical stores. I guess I was never a “Toys R Us kid”.
VINTAGE 80'S TOYS R US COMMERCIAL I DON'T WANNA GROW UP, I'M A TOYS R US KID - YouTube
Ready for more free coffee? Starbucks and Chase Pay have another new promotion for 300 bonus stars at Starbucks. Expires 3/19/18.
Install the Chase Pay app on Android or iOS, if you haven’t already. Chase Pay requires you to have an eligible Chase Visa consumer credit card, debit card, or Chase Liquid card.
Open the app and activate the Starbucks Rewards Promotion. Log out and log back in if you need. See my screenshot below.
Make a purchase at a participating Starbucks Store using the Chase Pay App.
300 stars should show up shortly, it says within 5 days but often sooner.
300 stars is enough to earn Gold Status (or renew your current Gold status), after which 125 stars can be redeemed nearly any food or drink item on the Starbucks menu. This means 300 stars can be valued at $10-$15 pretty easily. Besides a huge Venti caffeine/sugar bomb, most of their lunch food items are over $5 and some are closer to $9. They now have protein boxes, protein bowls, hot/cold sandwiches, and more. Alcoholic beverages are excluded.
What can I redeem my Reward for?
Starbucks® stores: one  complimentary handcrafted beverage [standard Starbucks menu sizes only], food item or ready-to-drink bottled beverage at participating Starbucks stores.
A lot of financial articles are all about optimizing or finding the “best”. The best bank account, best credit card, best mutual fund, etc. However, this CurrentAffairs.org article Nothing For Money takes a different perspective. They outline three “Bullsh– Financial Products” (BFPs) that are never, ever worth the money. There is no “best” to recommend. The best advice is to simply avoid them completely.
Overdraft Protection. The banks say they only want to offer “help” with this “protection”, but then why did it require governmental intervention make it opt-in only? You may be opted-in today due to old rules or by accident (you can still call them and opt-out). The fact is that most people would probably save money overall if it didn’t exist and banks simply rejected the transactions instantly.
I would really love to hear from anyone who has had a positive experience with overdraft protection. If you exist, write in and let us know about an instance when you were glad to pay your overdraft fee in order to have your transaction processed on the spot. What was the transaction? Why was it worth the extra $35 or whatever the fee amount was? Why was that better than using a credit card if you had access to one?
Student Loan Assistance. Student loans are big business and unfortunately the long list of options can be confusing. Don’t let one of these outfits take advantage of you.
So the student loan assistance companies will literally charge you many thousands of dollars to do something that: a) is not even necessarily the right thing for you; and b) is extremely easy and fast to do yourself if it is the right thing for you.
Payment Accelerators. I am also a big proponent of DIY payment acceleration. I have never found a payment accelerator program that I would recommend to a family member.
First, they generally charge you a lot. The companies that do this for your mortgage will sometimes charge you a full mortgage payment up to $1,000 to start the program, and then a fee of $5 or so every time they withdraw a payment from you, which is usually every two weeks. If you used a payment accelerator for your whole 30-year mortgage, you’d pay almost $5,000. There are also companies that do this mainly with auto loans. They charge a little less, but it’s still a lot. Most of them will charge you $399 at the beginning and then $2-3 per withdrawal, again usually every two weeks. So for a five-year loan, even if you pay it off six months early, you’re still looking at almost $700 in fees.
TurboTax.com has their “Absolute Zero promotion” again this year where simple filers can get Federal + State + Federal eFile + State eFile all for $0. You must qualify for IRS Forms Form 1040A or 1040EZ – that means taxable income of $100,000 or less, no itemized deductions, no business income, no investment sales. You can still claim certain things like educational tax credits, child and dependent care expenses, retirement plan (IRA) contributions, and the earned income credit. You can even receive interest and dividend income.
TurboTax just announced that this promotion ends March 15th. Prices tend to increase across the board as the deadline nears.
The simplest way to see if you qualify is to fill everything out and confirm the price as $0 before you file. You’ll always be presented with the price before being charged. (If you really have a simple situation, this shouldn’t take very long.) For full details, here’s their comparison chart (click to enlarge).
BP Driver Rewards and United Airlines have a new partnership where you can earn United miles on fuel purchases at BP stations. Earn 200 bonus award miles after joining and making your first fuel purchase with a linked debit or credit card. Signing up is free. You can link up nearly any Visa, MasterCard, Discover or American Express credit and debit card.
One award mile for every gallon of fuel purchased.
Two award miles (total) for every gallon of fuel purchased with a linked debit or credit card. When you use a linked card, you don’t need to remember your BP Driver Rewards number.
Three award miles (total) for every gallon of premium-grade fuel purchased with a linked debit or credit card.
Maximum 20 gallons per fuel purchase.
You can also do the reverse and redeem United miles towards fuel purchases at the rate of 60 award miles per gallon = 50¢ off per gallon at BP when you pay with the debit or credit card linked to your Driver Rewards account.
If you sign up for this Unites miles option, you are ineligible for their alternative cash back program of 10¢ off per gallon for every $100 spent on BP fuel.
Bottom line. The rewards aren’t amazing, but it’s an easy 200 miles upfront and also a good way to keep your existing United miles active by simply buying a few gallons of gas that you would use anyway. Currently, United miles expire after 18 months of inactivity. Keep this option set up just in case you need some miles.
TopCashBack.com is a cashback shopping portal that rebates you back a percentage of your purchases made through retail sites like Macys.com or Walmart.com. Although they offer very competitive payout rates, every so often TopCashBack runs “free stuff” promos for existing members, I suppose as a reminder to use them.
$10 new member bonus. TopCashback is currently offering newly-referred members a $10 bonus once they earn $10 in cashback. Once you get your $10, I will get $10 as well. This new member promo ends 3/17/18. You must check your email and click on the link inside to confirm your email address.
Free Glad Food Containers for all members. Once you are a member, click on this Glad Food Containers promotion link and you should be redirected to the offer page with additional details. Click ‘Get Offer Now’. Add the Glad Food Containers from Walmart totaling $3.41 or more to your cart and head to checkout. Do not close the window, open any new tabs, or use non-TopCashback approved coupons while checking out. The $3.43 will post to your TopCashback account within 14 days, and the amount will become payable within 14 days. Cash back can be credited straight to your checking or PayPal account. This Gladware promo expires March 9th at 23:59 PST.
Note: Transactions must contain at least one Glad Food Storage Containers – Tall Entree Container – 42 Ounce – 3 Count from Walmart priced at $3.41 to ensure $3.43 cashback is credited to TopCashback accounts. If another item is purchased under $3.41 the cashback amount awarded will be less (depending on the item(s) purchased) instead of $3.43. Transactions may take up to 7 days to appear in your TopCashback account. The deal is open until 11:59pm PST on 3/9/2018 or until supplies run out; whichever happens first; applicable for purchases made directly after clicking through TopCashback. Only one TopCashback account is permitted per member.
Day 6 of the NY Times 7-Day Financial Tuneup is about insurance. Specifically, either homeowner’s or renter’s insurance to protect yourself against a large financial hit. (Sign up for your own personalized tune-up here.)
Do a home inventory. Basically, take a video of everything you’d want an insurance company to replace if your home was destroyed. Store the video somewhere safe, like the cloud or a flash drive in a secure location. You can use this video to both get appropriate insurance coverage and if you do end up filing an insurance claim. I’ve seen some apps that help you do this in detail, but I agree that a simple video is a reasonable solution.
Check your current policy. Find a copy of your insurance policy. Make sure you have enough coverage. Note the difference between a “replacement value” and “fair market value” policy.
Shop around with some competitors. The NYT recommends picking two of the major insurance companies (Geico, Progressive, Allstate, State Farm, etc.) and call them for an insurance quote armed with your home inventory list. If you are willing to try a start-up insurance company, I would throw in a free online Lemonade quote if you are in one of their 9 covered states – New York, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Texas, Nevada, Ohio, and Georgia. If you get a quote that is too high, simply move on.
I also recommend doing a search for “[Your State] Department of Insurance” and look for a “Homeowner’s Insurance Guide” of some sort. Insurance companies are closely regulated on the state level and you can often find a list of sample premiums, a ranking based on complaints ratio, or other useful information. This can help you narrow down your initial search and save time. For example, here are some links for New York and California.
Call your current insurance company. Call your current insurance company and first, confirm that your policy coverage details. Then, ask if there’s any way to reduce your insurance rate. Mention a competing quote if you have one.
Day 5 of the NY Times 7-Day Financial Tuneup is about your credit reports. (Yes, I’ve been taking this at my own pace. Sign up for your own personalized tune-up here.) This one felt a bit basic, so I also recommended a bunch of additional sites that are hopefully also helpful. Let’s start with a summary of what the NYT says:
Understand what your credit report means. Your credit report includes data on your credit card payment history, mortgages, student debt, new loan applications, and bankruptcies.
Get a copy of your credit report.AnnualCreditReport.com is the official government-mandated site. You can get one of each of the three major bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) once every 12 months, so one tactic is to stagger them every 4 months.
Check for errors. You can dispute errors using sample letters from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Instructions are included for disputes with both the credit bureau and the lender.
Improve your habits, if needed. Credit repair 101… Pay your bills on time. Keep card balances well below your credit limit.
Hold off on opening new accounts for a while.
Freeze your credit. The NYT says that it is “generally a good idea” to freeze your credit. You will have you unfreeze your credit next time you apply for a credit card, try to rent an apartment, apply for a mortgage or do anything else where a company may need your credit report. You may need to spend $5 to $10 each time as well.
My take on credit freezes. Freezing your credit may be a reasonable step if you rarely do anything that would require a thaw. However, between my wife and I, we probably get 10 credit pulls a year. (Don’t worry, zero credit card debt, zero car loan, zero mortgage debt. Credit score is still good too.) Every time I apply for a new credit card or join a new credit union, I might would have to thaw and then re-freeze the bureau, and that’s if I already know ahead of time which one of the three I need to thaw. That adds up to both a lot of time and money.
I would add a free credit monitoring service instead. A timely example – just yesterday on March 5th I decided to apply for a new credit union membership at Sharonview Federal Credit Union. Some preliminary research indicated that they would probably pull a credit report (probably TransUnion), but I wasn’t sure. After making the application, I was notified right away by multiple free credit monitoring services that it was TransUnion (and only them). I’m writing this post on March 6th. If a credit freeze had blocked their check, I would have to manually ask them to check again, which would have delayed my application on a limited-time offer.
I think you’ll agree that the ability to receive a free alert within a day is a lot better than checking in at most once every 4 months. CreditSesame tracks TransUnion, and CreditKarma tracks both TransUnion and Equifax. There are other options and most are advertising-supported, so you’ll see ads for mortgages and credit cards on the site. There may also be some “premium” features they try to upsell you, but I’ve never had to pay a cent.
Back in 2011, a Boston Globe article came out about how a few folks repeatedly won tens of thousands of dollars on a Massachusetts lottery ticket game due to how the jackpot rolled over if it went unclaimed long enough. Essentially, at certain times the odds showed a expected positive return for everyone, but you’d have to buy a lot of tickets to even out the chances of bad luck. (This is why folks can win in the short-term in Las Vegas casinos, but the house always wins over a large number of bets.)
Mark Kon, a professor of math and statistics at Boston University, calculated that a bettor buying even $10,000 worth of tickets would run a significant risk of losing more than they won during the July rolldown week. But someone who invested $100,000 in Cash WinFall tickets had a 72 percent chance of winning. Bettors like the Selbees, who spent at least $500,000 on the game, had almost no risk of losing money, Kon said.
The Globe article basically made the bettors out to be villains, the “rich” against the “poor”. This Felix Salmon article argues that the game was fine, as technically everyone had the same odds (rich or poor) and the game actually generated a lot of money for the state. Buying that many tickets also took a lot of work:
As a result, while some people did indeed essentially treat Cash WinFall as a full-time job, it wasn’t necessarily a particularly lucrative or easy job for any given individual: it would take one couple ten hours a day, for ten days, to sort through their tickets to find the winners, the proceeds from which would then be shared among 32 consortium members. On top of that, every member of every consortium could reasonably expect to be audited by the state Department of Revenue every year. Which isn’t exactly fun.
A new HuffPost longform article takes a deeper, more personal look at the retired “couple next door” who discovered the edge and eventually made millions off of it. All that it required was “6th grade math”, according to Jerry and Marge Selbee:
The brochure listed the odds of various correct guesses. Jerry saw that you had a 1-in-54 chance to pick three out of the six numbers in a drawing, winning $5, and a 1-in-1,500 chance to pick four numbers, winning $100. What he now realized, doing some mental arithmetic, was that a player who waited until the roll-down stood to win more than he lost, on average, as long as no player that week picked all six numbers. With the jackpot spilling over, each winning three-number combination would put $50 in the player’s pocket instead of $5, and the four-number winners would pay out $1,000 in prize money instead of $100, and all of a sudden, the odds were in your favor. If no one won the jackpot, Jerry realized, a $1 lottery ticket was worth more than $1 on a roll-down week—statistically speaking.
“I just multiplied it out,” Jerry recalled, “and then I said, ‘Hell, you got a positive return here.’”
How much did they win?
By 2009 they had grossed more than $20 million in winning tickets—a net profit of $5 million after expenses and taxes—but their lifestyle didn’t change. Jerry and Marge remained in the same house, hosting a family gathering each Christmas as they always had. Though she could have chartered a private jet and taken everyone to Ibiza, Marge still ran the kitchen, made her famous toffee candy and washed dishes by hand. It didn’t occur to her to buy a dishwasher.
Would you have done the same thing if you knew about this edge? In my opinion, this is what makes the story fascinating. First, you have to find the inefficiency. Then you have to trust your findings enough to bet on them. You must risk your time and money upfront, throw in some ingenuity, and profit only if you are right. Then you have to bet big enough to make your winnings significant before the edge disappears (and they all eventually do). Putting all those things together is quite difficult. I’d be willing to bet some other people discovered the positive expected return, but still didn’t take the risk.
With Cash WinFall, if you had a knack for math, you could get an edge. If you were willing to spend the money, you could get an edge. If you put in the hours, you could get an edge. And was that so terrible? How was it Jerry’s fault to solve a puzzle that was right there in front of him? How was it Marge’s fault that she was willing to break her back standing at a lottery terminal, printing tickets?