Archives For Personal Finance

I hex Catan

Photo Credit Will Merydith (Creative Commons)

If you haven’t played the German board game, The Settlers of Catan, you are missing out.

German board games are all the rage among both geeks and hipsters alike. *Warning they are addictive and make you use your brain.

Even if you’ve never played The Settlers of Catan, I think you’ll learn to win with money by playing this crazy fun game.

What is The Settlers of Catan?

The basic premise of The Settlers of Catan is to be the first to achieve 10 points first. Sounds easy enough.

You’ll gather resources: Wool, Grain, Lumber, Ore, Brick and then use them to build cities & roads, buy cards, and of course trade.

Settlers is a bit like Risk meets Monopoly, but shorter. You’ll be able to play in an hour once you learn the rules. Trust me this a game you’ll want to play over and over again. Check the official rules if you’re super geeky.

 

Catan gameboard

Settlers of Catan Island (Photo Credit ginnerobot)

10 Reasons Why Finances Are Like The Settlers of Catan

1) The Game Changes- The island is never the same, so each game is unique. Also, the game changes due to the robber or due to the strategy of other players. With personal finance, you’ve got to be ready to change your budget when things come up or changes in your personal economy happen. Be flexible and don’t make epic budgeting mistakes.

2) Trading with the Bank is the last option- In Catan you’ll be able to made trades with the bank, but at a terrible exchange rate of 4:1. Look for other options with your money than trading with the bank. Avoid debt. Paying with cash is best. Remember the bank is the real winner.

3) Protect Your Money Making Hexes– In Catan, you’ll find that you’ll have several hexes that are money makers, so you’ll want to protect them from the robber. Have insurance in place for your finance to protect your income and belongs. Make sure you’ve got disability insurance, health insurance, life insurance, ID theft insurance, and homeowners insurance to keep money flowing when bad times happen.

4) Build a Long Road– Having the longest road will give you 2 victory points. Once attained, it’s tough to keep. Play your financial game for the longest road, not the quick short gain. Invest for the long term 5+ years at least and build a long road toward your financial and life goals.

5) Winners Barter With Friends- The people who usually win Settlers of Catan are excellent traders. Those who win with money, also play well with others and trade or barter information and even business opportunities. Find people in your life who know how to make and use money properly and soon you’ll be on the fast track to 10 victory points.

6) Fear the Robber-If the robber is camped out on your hex, you won’t collect cards. Keep an emergency fund of 3-6 months of necessities so you’ll be able to survive when the robber is camped out on your life’s hexes.

7) Diversify your Hexes (Income)– You’ll need multiple resources to win in Catan. It’s almost impossible to win with sheep alone. Diversify your income with side hustles, dividend income, rental property, or other means of passive income. If one stream dries up, you’ll have other income that continues to roll in.

8) Teaching Others Will Improve Your Skills- The best way to hone your game skills is to teach your friends or family. I’ve found that as I write and teach others about money, my money skills become sharpened. Find someone to teach and start. Your kids are a great place to begin, since you’ll have to break down complex ideas into their basic building blocks.

9) City Life Is Good– Upgrade from a settlement to a city will give you 2 points and double the resource cards. City life is good, with more opportunities and higher wages.  If you’re having trouble with your low income, perhaps its time for a move to the city, where more job opportunities lie. It’s hard to budget, when your income is too low.

10 Invest in Culture– When you buy cards, you might just get a culture card that is 1 Victory point. Invest not only in financial products, but in your education, family, learning, and cultural entertainment. Life isn’t all about money, so make sure to have fun and learn along the way.

#11 Bonus Having Fun Doesn’t Have to Cost a Fortune– A small investment into a family board game will yield compounding dividends of fun and family bonding. Likewise starting a business doesn’t have to cost a fortune and can lead you to follow your passions that solve others problems.

Play Settlers of Catan

If you’re interested in playing this game and supporting this site, feel free to purchase The Settlers of Catan or one of the Catan expansion sets.

Need to learn how to play? Check out this tutorial.

Have you played Settlers of Catan? What life or money lessons did it teach you? 

Have you ever had a financial advisor who told you to NOT invest?

I did and I’m thankful for that guy who saw me as a person who needed wisdom and not as another monthly commission check.

Thank You Street ArrowAn Honest Financial Advisor?

I was in grad school full time, working part time, and seriously dating my future wife.

Back then I was just learning about money and listening to Dave Ramsey while exercising or commuting.

I must have missed the whole baby step thing, because I had it in my mind that I needed to start investing. You see I found my old retirement account from my day of being a teacher and thought I needed to do some investing with it.

One day I wandered into an Edward Jones office in one of the richest areas of San Francisco with the paperwork and intent of becoming a serious investor. The main advisor happened to be in and agreed to meet with me there on the spot. He proceeded to give me an hour long investing lesson using a white board, explaining load and no load funds, compound interest and more.

He talked to me like a person without condensation or judgement. This is an essential quality in choosing a financial advisor. 

At the end of his lesson his advice was for me to NOT invest my retirement in other funds, but to use a small amount to pay off my grad school loan and be debt free with a new degree and a bit of retirement saved.

I was astonished. Did he actually turn down my business? Did he tell me to not invest and do what I came in here to do?

He showed me the door and I was left to my own thoughts.

Not Investing Was a Great Decision

In retrospect, not moving my retirement around was a great decision that day. I had no idea what I was doing. Nor did my life situation warrant beginning to invest at the time.

I did end up cashing it out later to pay off my small graduate school bill, help pay for our wedding, and started our new married life with a little emergency fund.

I am thankful for the honesty and integrity of that financial advisor who told me “No”.

He chose to forego a quick commission check (though I’m sure small to what he was used to) in exchange for helping a misguided graduate student stay out of the market right before the great recession and market crash.

Had I invested, the money would have been reduced to 1/2 its value at the time I needed it most.

Thank you to honest financial advisors who understand their fiduciary responsibility and have their client’s best interest at heart.

How has your experience been with financial advisors?

lego robber

Your financial security question answers are on Facebook = a hackers dream Photo Credit: Smile its lego via Compfight cc

Recently we opened a new financial account and had to dream up answers to the financial security questions. You know the series of questions that are asked if and when you can’t remember your password. I’m not the only one who’ve lost their most important passwords right?

Those questions are often random, yet many of the traditional answers to those questions can be found on Facebook or social media profiles, especially for those in the younger generations whose whole life is chronicled by the Inter-webs.

Concerned? You should be!

How Hackers Can Hack Your Financial Accounts Through Facebook

This shouldn’t come as a newsflash. Hackers are trying to steal your identity and money; it’s happening every single day online–offline too through your snail mail.

One easy way to find the answers to your financial security answers are through Facebook or other social media.

Think about a few of the popular online security questions I’ve seen recently:

  • Your mother’s maiden name: Time to talk to your mum about changing her name online, or maybe you’re uber paranoid enough to defriend your mom. Who would even consider that?
  • You High School? High school colors? High school mascot?: Easy to find on your Facebook timeline or maybe even by searching your Twitter archives.
  • Best friend? First best friend? These answers could be found on Facebook or maybe even that old Xanga blog you abandoned years ago.
  • Hospital of Birth? This shouldn’t be too hard to guess.
  • Favorite song? You still have that old My Space account active?
  • Favorite book? Good Reads profile or Amazon wish list or even your profile on Yelp. Speaking of Yelp, that’s a treasure trove of information about where you live, shop, frequent…etc. I bet a hacker could mine that information too!
  • Favorite Movie? Easy- Spaceballs! Another easy one to glean from Facebook.
  • First Boyfriend/Girlfriend? For those in the younger generation, there are probably hundreds of online exchanges between your first significant other online.

Are you freaked out yet? I am. Maybe I should do a yearly audit on my social profiles to scrub any information that hackers could use to claim my identity. I try to keep up with the latest Facebook privacy updates, but it’s tough to keep up. Good thing I believe in identity theft protection.

What are your thoughts about identity theft and the possibility that the answers to your financial security questions are on Facebook? 

Remember those signs that read, “If you break it, you buy it!”? They were usually in those fancy shops where your mom took you when you were a kid. Didn’t you want to touch EVERYTHING in the store?

Of course you couldn’t because they were made of glass or porcelain or some other fragile substance unsuitable for slippery little fingers.

What if you actually picked up one of those little shiny figurines and…oops! CRASH!

If You Break it, You Own it

Now, what do you do? There are several options:

  1. Run and hide.
  2. Make excuses and blame someone else or the circumstances.
  3. Own up to your mistake and confront the not so happy shop keeper.

Will you actually own up to the fact that you broke something as the sign in the shop says and “own it”? Yes, even the little broken pieces on the floor.

This isn’t rocket science, but a gut check on moral responsibility and a reflection of character. Will you do the right thing when the time comes and own up to your mistakes?

The Pottery Barn Rule

I was reminded of this when listening to Colin Powell’s biography It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership in my daily commute.

He is attributed with the Pottery Barn Rule- You break it you own it. (they really don’t have such a rule, but the name stuck) Powell was referring to the Iraq war, when the invasion (breaking) involved a much deeper commitment to the country and region (own it).

The Pottery Barn Rule and Personal Finances

When applied to money, what does the Pottery Barn Doctrine infer? I believe that of personal responsibility for our actions and–yes even mistakes.

  • Paying back our consumer and personal debts even if it takes years.
  • Not easily declaring bankruptcy, not until we’re forced to after a long hard fight.
  • Not engaging in strategic walk aways of homes without having tried to pay back what we’ve committed to pay.

You get the idea. Take responsibility for your actions and mistakes. Clean up your mess. Pay for what you’ve committed to buy. What happens after a mistake is a test of moral integrity and a revelation of our character to the world.

What are your thoughts about the Pottery Barn Rule? How have you applied it to your life or personal finances? 

 

Does Warby Parker Accept VSP?

I’ve been a secret fanboy of Warby Parker glasses. I dig that they are helping others by providing glasses….The “Buy a pair, give a pair.” has a very TOMSesque appeal.

So hey, I’d like support their mission and look hip at the same time. Then my frugal side wakes up and remembers that I actually pay for vision insurance.

VSP to be exact–the #2 vision insurance provider in the country (54 million) behind #1 Eye Med Vision Care (159 million) according to an study from businessinsurance.com.

So Does Warby Parker Accept VSP?

I started out by searching and found this video:

I was disappointed that Warby Parker doesn’t work directly with insurance providers and I’d have to request a receipt to submit to VSP and wait to get reimbursed.

My motivation for jumping through multiple hoops is generally fairly low–I’m sure i’m not alone.

I’m glad they responded and cleverly with a video too, but it’s the same answer and doesn’t tell me HOW to go through this seemingly complicated insurance process.

It seems overly complex, so I thought I’d help others who also have VSP Insurance and want to wear Warby Parker glasses.

How to Request a Receipt from Warby Parker for Insurance Purposes

You can call Warby Parker at 888.492.7297 (Monday–Friday, 9 a.m.–9 p.m. ET) or you can email them for a receipt at help@warbyparker.com.

I called up a friendly WP rep and they said they are able to create a special receipt that has lenses and frames on the same line for the $95.00 price, but they don’t break down the lenses and frames into separate line items.

Of course she recommend that I speak with VSP to ensure my plan will cover out of network–which Warby Parker is.

How to Submit an out of Network Receipt to VSP?

You have 12 months to submit an out of network claim if your plan allows.

Login or call to ensure your VSP plan will reimburse you before you go all Warby Parker hipster crazy. Below is my plan provided through my employer.

VSP Out of Network example

 

You’ll need need to log on to the VSP platform. On the left click on Claims and Reinbursement and then you’ll be directed to start a new claim.

 

Start an out of network claim on VSP

Why Does VSP Hate Warby Parker and other Online Retailers?

I get the impression from this string of comments on the VSP site, that they dislike hate Warby Parker and other online retailers.

1. VSP and Warby Parker are competitors:

“Unfortunately, we can’t add WP to the network because they are a competitor, but we are hoping to have new online solutions soon.” –David, VSP from here.

2. VSP also thinks online retailers have inferior products and “minimal quality standards.”

They even quote statistics from this study in the comments when people asked VSP to add Warby Parker to their preferred vendors:

“Nearly half of prescription spectacles delivered directly by online vendors did not meet either the optical requirements of the patient’s visual needs or the physical requirements for the patient’s safety.”

Just a little about this study…it’s horse poop. How did they determine the top 12 online retailers to test the prescriptions?

“In early 2010, we identified 12 of the most visited Web sites for ordering prescription spectacles online, based on rankings provided by Alexa® Traffic Rank service7 (San Francisco, California) and Google PageRank™ checker8 (Mountain View, California).”

Sounds fancy, but Internet saavy folk know that Alexa can easily be gamed (I’ve done it) and that the PR checker does not determine the amount of traffic, popularity of brands, nor the amount of online orders.

AND this study was in 2010–that’s 60 internet years by my calculations. They also don’t identify the 12 which they drew samples from in this study, so it just seems like a bit of self-serving pseudo science based off old outdated metrics.

Warby Parker Vs. VSP Conclusion

I started out this journey a little disappointed in Warby Parker, but in the end I have a bitter taste in my mouth for VSP.

May upstart companies like Warby Parker continue to disrupt the marketplace. WP, I’ll have to save up for your cool hip glasses since it seems I’ll have to float some out of pocket costs until/if I can get reimbursed. *Update I couldn’t contain myself any longer and plucked down the $95 in cash for my new WP. I’m saving my VSP this go round for prescription sunglasses.

I’ll also keep my cheap VSP plan and squeeze every dime I can out of it–at least another year until Open Enrollment starts again.

Anyone had success or tips reimbursing your out of network Warby Parker glasses from VSP? Please share below!