Payday Loans

Nope. Not one of those “get paid to work for Google” scammy ads. You can get up to $25 in Amazon gift card from Google by signing up to their Screenwise panel. Essentially you get $5 for downloading the Chrome browser and installing the extension. You then get $5 for every three month you stay with the panel program (up to $25 max).

Personally I wouldn’t want my personal data to be shared like this, even if its in aggregated/anonymous format, but for those that don’t care or mind, this is easy enough “free” money (in the form of Amazon gift cards anyways).

Here’s the full gist of the program:

  • You can sign up at the Google Screenwise program page
  • You must be 13 or older (surprisingly low age threshold)
  • Have a Google account (or will sign-up for one)
  • Using the Chrome web browser
  • You’ll eventually get instructions on how to install the extension and join the program through Google’s panel management partner, Knowledge Networks

The sign-up page at Google shows that the maximum payout is $25 (total of 12 months plus initial $5 they give you for signing up). However in the fine print Google notes that it may extend the research beyond 12 months if there is a need/fit.

Please note that I am assuming data being shared are on an aggregated or anonymous format, but you should check with the full program terms before you start using it on a day-to-day basis. I doubt the purpose of the program/panel will be recording your bank login information etc., but when you install additional extensions to your browser, you add new potential security risk.

If anything, I suppose people can always sign-up to the program and opt-out of the program after the initial gift card is given to you. *shrug*

Wow. Just when I thought the whole Visa Signature stuff is at times pointless, out comes a fairly nice promotion from Southwest Airlines and Visa. Not sure why I didn’t see this promotion earlier.

The deal is pretty straight forward:

  • Visit VISA’s deal page to check if you qualify.
  • As long as you’re a Visa Signature card holder, you’ll be presented with a Southwest promo code after verifying
  • You’ll have to input your email address before they give you the promo code
  • Search for flights on either Southwest or SWABIZ, or use the tool on the VISA page

The fare saver codes are available from Jan 20th to April 30th, 2011. Works at or Codes are valid for travel between Jan 20th through June 1st, 2011.  The code works only ONCE and you’ll only be issued one code per Visa Signature card you own, so use them wisely.

Here are the blackout dates:

  • April 21, 2011 through April 25, 2011
  • May 20, 2011 through May 24, 2011.

Despite the blackout dates, this is still a very good deal, considering you can get an easy 15% off the lowest “Wanna Get Away” fare and its real saving especially if you do a cross country trip.  I generally take Southwest for their daily shuttles from SNA to SFO, but they’re perfectly fine for long-haul transcontinental trips too.  If I recall correctly, my pal Jim at Bargaineering is a raving Southwest fan.

I hate to admit it, but I can be a real judgmental prick sometimes.

Since starting this blog eons ago, my general personal finance philosophy has been this:

If you can really afford it, spend it.

But there are those moments where I’ll just cringe and think to myself: “God, what an ass.”

My first encounter with status symbol was many years ago, back in elementary school. For a period of time, my sister and I had reduced price on lunch due to family income eligibility. (Thinking about it now, it might have been free lunch for a month or so, then it changed to reduced price and eventually the benefit went away as our family household income increased). I remember standing in line, giving the coupon/vouchers to the lunch lady, and I was none-the-wiser that my family was any different than my classmates.

Ah, to be a naive kid again.

I eventually got around to asking my mom about why we were getting free/reduced price lunch and found out that while my family was not exactly dirt poor, we were certainly not rolling in money either.

What really opened my eyes though was what happened a few days later. While after school, I noticed a fellow classmate that’s also using the reduced lunch voucher getting picked up by his parent — in their brand new Mercedes. Needless to say, I was really confused.

Soon, I learned that the family in question was not necessarily cheating the welfare system, but was using what little money they had just to buy/lease (or however they got) the Mercedes.

Growing up in Southern California, this type of status symbol display quickly became the norm in life. You’ll quickly hear how so and so just bought a brand new car. Or a luxury watch. Or a luxury bag. Or high-end kicks. All this before I even graduated from high school (and I graduated from a lower-middle class high school).

So although there was a time when I was really car crazy (SoCal culture after all) — these days I really despise the car as a status symbol. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with buying a nice car. Who wouldn’t want a sweet bimmer that can do 0 to 60 in under 5 seconds? But when you can’t afford it and you straddle yourself with a tens of thousands of dollars in debt just to look good in other people’s eyes… you’re kind of a tool in my book.

Till this day, I still get the occasionally online inquiry from a random high school classmate: “Hey man, are you still driving that Honda Civic?”

What an ass.

What type of status symbols annoys you the most? Feel free to share in the comments below. And yes, I still drive my “old” 2001 Honda Civic :)

Well here’s a stupidly good deal that you really can’t pass up on (especially if you’re going to buy something at Amazon in the near future). is having a nation-wide deal on a $20 Amazon gift card, 50% off for $10. The deal started a couple of hours ago and went from 50,000 takers, to 200,000 to the now incredible 740,000 sign-ups (as of time of writing). Grab the deal fast as time is running out.

For those that aren’t familiar with Living Social (or sites like it such as Groupon), these are daily group-buy deal websites that presents you with usually location/local based deals. You can see from the screenshot above that they’re currently presenting me with Orange County, CA deals.

Groupon and LivingSocial have both been around for quite awhile now (about 2 years+), and both are legitimate companies offering local deals. If you’re wondering why and how Living Social is doing this sweet Amazon deal, in short, Amazon has invested about $175 million into Living Social in recent months. It’s unsurprising that they’d want more coverage and brand recognition for the company they’ve invested in, and its most likely Amazon is heavily subsidizing this particular deal.

Still Not a Big Fan Yet of Local Deal-of-the-Day Sites

Although I’m a big time bargain hunter, I still haven’t really taken advantage of any Groupon or Living Social, etc. deal sites yet. Simply put, most of the deals don’t really interest and/or entice me. A quick skim on local nearby deals shows that I can premium skin care in Los Angeles, discount on a cleaning agency in Orange County, and uh, yoga sessions in San Fernando Valley. Today’s Groupon deal shows $20 for $40 worth of scrapbooking supplies and classes at a local scrapbooking store:

Having said that, these deal-of-the-day group buying sites can be of great value to users and local businesses that sometimes promote on them (even if results are sometimes mixed). You can find and support local businesses that you may have never heard about before, and for the local small businesses, perhaps earn a new loyal customer.

Have you tried sites like Groupon and Living Social yet? If so, share your experience in the comments below.

Don’t forget to take advantage of the Amazon deal if you’re buying something from Amazon in the near future (the gift card will be available the following day).

A couple of weeks ago, I was in San Francisco and my friends and I were heading to the delicious Volcano Curry, where you can find decent portions of Japanese-style curry being served for a relatively good price.

On the way to the restaurant, I withdrew some cash from an East West Bank branch.  Upon seeing the ATM action, a person in the group asked if I banked with East West, and if I liked the bank.

“Oh actually, I have an account at Charles Schwab Bank, and they refund all ATM fees.  They’re pretty bad ass.”

“Ah, is Schwab a good bank then?”  the person asked.

“Good service so far. Haven’t got screwed yet so I like them.”

Its funny that my immediate thoughts and standard to the quality of a bank is how much, if any, has the bank taken advantage of me.

Charles Schwab, by all accounts, has very decent banking and financial products.  While I haven’t used my brokerage account heavily, I have used my checking account and debit card extensively while traveling , knowing full well that I’ll get a decent conversion rate if I withdraw cash while abroad, and the convenience of having any ATM fees refunded is also a nice perk.

Each time that I’ve called Schwab with a question, my call was answered promptly by a U.S. representative in a professional and courteous manner.  And yes, my questions and concerns are dealt with within the duration of the call.

Despite all these positive attributes, the quickest way I can convey to a person how much I like my bank is how little the bank has screwed me over.

What strange standards we have these days.

Whenever people ask me about getting a free FICO score, it’ll often involve a long process where I’ll explain why they will most likely have to pay for their FICO credit score. The fact is, while there are a number of free services that offers a credit score base on your real credit history, one of the few places to easily get a real FICO credit score, and avoiding all those “fake scores” is to get your score straight from myFICO.

free FICO score 10 day trial

For a long time, myFICO offers FICO score for free via a trial service with their Score Watch product, but for whatever reason they discontinued this trial offer earlier this year. If you’re ever in need of the credit score and not just estimates from third parties, you will usually have to fork over anywhere from $12-$15 for these numbers. Thankfully, myFICO has now reintroduced their free trial offer (this time, a 10-day trial offer versus the previous 30-day offer).

Getting your free FICO score is rather easy:

  1. Visit the myFICO free trial sign-up page and sign-up for an account.
  2. Input your personal and payment information.
  3. You will not be charged until the trial offer ends, as noted by this page.
  4. myFICO will email you 3 days before your trial ends to remind you to cancel or keep your subscription.
  5. To cancel your account, simply use this form, select “I would like to cancel my production subscription” and then choose the Score Watch product.

Important: If you do decide to keep the Score Watch service, know that the service has a minimum of 3 month subscription!

Personally, the previous cancel option from the previous 30 day trial service was much easier, as you simply clicked a link and the service is cancelled. But myFICO still made it relatively easy when compared to other companies that has “free trial” offers, and it’s much appreciated that they email you in advance to warn you that the trial service is ending.  By using the contact form, you won’t have to deal with any phone reps that may be trying to upsale you to other services or hardball you to keep your service (none of that AOL never-cancel service tactic, thank-you-very-much).

Score Watch Summary Page

Though I’ve never fully written about the Score Watch service before (and I’ve been meaning to since 2006), its generally one of the better paid credit monitoring service available.  Beyond the fact that you’re getting a real free FICO score, the newly designed interface makes the monitoring service easier to navigate and provides the right educational information right where you need it.  For example, if you have a negative item in your credit report, myFICO points you to the right place to get it disputed.

The Score Watch summary page breaks down your Equifax credit score (click to enarlge pictured above), give you a quick run through of the four main FICO score ingredients: payment history, amount of debt, length of credit history, and amount of new credit.  My credit score as you can see above, is rather low, but myFICO has classified it as “good.”  This relatively low score is due to some recent balance transfer as I shuffle money around, something that should clear up quickly once the balances are paid off.  When compared with my old score of 790, it can be quite a difference!

If you’re interested in getting your FICO Score for free, give this free trial a whirl. Do remember that if you’re not interested in the service, request a day or two in advance to cancel the trial period just so you won’t be accidentally billed.  A FICO score is a handy reference if you’re in any financial situation that needs it: shopping for auto loan, mortgage, etc.; other than these situations, paying for a score due to curiosity probably isn’t worth it — but if you’re still dying to know, thankfully the free trial offer is back!

Related Resources & Links:

Maybe I just don’t get it.

Maybe I just couldn’t understand why a pair of jeans made in Thailand may be better than another pair of jeans made in Thailand.  (To be fair, Diesel jeans are made only in Italy, Tunisia, or Morocco — with the most being produced in Italy).

The thing is, although I may think of it as a waste of money, it really is a sense of perspective and value.

There are MANY denim fans out there.  They value a well made pair of denim, that’s well-designed, fashionable, long lasting; and well, many other factors that I probably wouldn’t be able to list.

I took a shot of this pair of jeans earlier this spring while in Rome (during the whole volcano-making-Europeans-life-miserable moment), and I was slightly giddy with excitement as I envision the post I’ll write up, trashing the ridiculously priced jeans and the satisfaction I’ll get when my readers confirm my perspective, and we all pat ourselves on the back and think about how wise we are with our spending.

The thing is, how we spend our money is a very personal and subjective thing.  Though I’m a fairly frugal guy, I’ll often do incredibly unpractical things (such as impromptu travel with airfare that makes me spit blood).  And in these moments where the spending makes absolutely no sense to another person, it’ll make perfect sense to me.

Although I’ll probably never understand the concept of a pair of jeans that cost more than $20 (and I still hope someone can explain it to me), what I do understand is that I’m still a firm believer in spending whatever the hell you want — as long as you’re not bankrupting yourself or your future.

Related Post:

As I uttered the line above to my friend, her eyes widen in disbelief.

“What do you mean you don’t need money?”

“Well, uh, you know,” I stammered, suddenly realized how stupid I sounded. “I make an okay amount of money on the side, I don’t think I really need a full time job right now.”

She shook her head in utter annoyance.

It’s been about an hour since we started the discussion about how I can at times be a flake, never committing 100% to school or work.

“You need to commit to one or the other,” the infinitely more matured friend told me. “You should just get a full-time job right now and better your working habits.”

Somewhere along the conversation, I clamor out the now forever brilliant line.

“I don’t need to get a job. I don’t need the money!”

In retrospect, this was probably another moment where I showcased my occasional twisted value system to my friend.

Click to Continue Reading…

« Previous PageNext Page »