Friday, May 29, 2009

Garage sale!

I read an article today titled, American dream slipping away, which was really a story about how times have changed for the American auto worker.  While this is certainly true, I would not conclude that the American dream is slipping away.  It's just different.  I would suspect that if you asked 100 people what their "dream" was, you would get 100 different answers.  For some people it would be, to have a home, 2 kids, a good job, and a loving spouse.  For others, it might be to retire in the mountains or on the beach.  You get the point.  A recent study has discovered that a vast majority of people working today do not want to retire!  They plan to work until they die.  I'm not sure what I would do if I quit working.  For me, the American dream is enterprise.  If you sell something, people will buy it.  And people will buy just about anything.  Just check eBay and Craigslist anytime to see some of the crazy stuff people are selling.  Tomorrow, my wife is going to have a garage sale.  While I hate going to garage sales, and setting up for them, I do like selling things.  It's nice to collect money and see things that used to clutter your house, go away to another family.  Some people cannot afford new things and will find some great bargains at our little "store".  Of course, not everything will sell.  There will be leftovers for the next sale, or perhaps a donation at the local Good Will trailer.  So if you're in the market for some gently used kid clothes and toys, CD's, VCR movies, or who knows what, come on by!  

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Health care reform

President Obama is planning to reform health care in America by the end of the year.  Exactly how this will happen is not yet clear.  While most people would agree that health care could or should be reformed, it's really not as simple as it sounds.  I don't think anyone would want a national health care system like they currently have in Canada or England.  It sounds good until you need an operation and are told you will need to wait six months.  This morning I have an appointment with a woman who is in charge of her small business's group health plan.  They are getting a 34% rate increase over last year and we need to discuss options for getting this number lower.  Not an easy proposition because lowering the premiums will basically mean cutting some of the benefits of the plan, like raising the deductible and out of pocket expenses.  For most people, taking a look at switching to an HSA (Health Savings Plan) is a smart way to do this.  Trading higher deductibles for lower premiums and tax deductible HSA contributions makes a lot of sense.  For more on the Health Care reform question, read this:

For more information on HSA's, check out this FAQ page:

Stop complaining and start saving, America!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

End of recession near?

A survey of economists revealed that the majority of them expect the current recession to end sometime this year.  As Mark Twain once said, if you are going to make predictions, be sure you make plenty of them.  Now to be fair, economists do not usually go out on a limb.  They pour over statistics and data and do not make comments until they are almost certain of the outcome.  You may remember that the current recession that started in December of 2007 was not announced until last summer!  Read the whole article here:

Of course only time will tell, but one thing is for sure.  This current economic cycle will eventually end and a new one will begin.  Same goes for the stock markets.  Bear markets end and new bull markets begin.  The only question is when and for how long.  We have certainly seen a good run in the stock markets over the past 10 or 11 weeks.  For most people, however, these recent events should not have changed your overall strategy, which is to save for retirement or other long term goals like college education.  If anything, the recent gains in the markets hopefully made you feel better about keeping your money invested.  Here's an idea for the summer, turn off CNBC and get outside and enjoy the outdoors!  You can thank me later...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

New Rules for Credit Cards

Now that President Obama has signed the new Credit Card Responsibility Act into law this past Friday, people are already wondering who this will help and who it will hurt.  To be sure, the new law will help people who carry balances and who also have marginal credit scores.  This will help keep rates from skyrocketing just for being late on some other payments.  It will also give everyone more time to make payments and more notice when the credit card issuer decides to make policy changes.  Read more about the new rules here:

Now here's who could get hurt by the new rules, people who pay their balance every month.  A lot of people use their credit cards responsibly and do not carry balances subject to high interest rates and fees.  Because of this, they only use credit cards with no annual fee.  Credit card companies ironically call these people "deadbeats" because they do not make a lot of money on them for obvious reasons.  With the new credit card rules coming, some people speculate that credit card companies and banks will begin charging annual fees to everyone, as a way to make up for the lost revenue of cutting back on finance charges to others.  For more on this take read here:

Now this won't happen right away, but it pays to start keeping a closer eye on your statements and mailings from your credit cards.  Credit cards aren't bad if used properly.  The trick is to stay in control of your cards, and not let the credit cards be in control of you!  I just got a $250 check from my Chase Freedom cash back card!  Thanks Chase!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day!  Thanks to all those servicemen and women who have died to keep this country free!  For more on the history of Memorial Day, check out:

Friday, May 22, 2009

Summer's almost here; so are higher gas prices

As we approach the beginning of the long Memorial Day weekend, many Americans are making plans to hit the road.  Not coincidentally, so are higher gas prices.  While gas is now around $2.20-2.29 per gallon in the St. Louis area (a 15% or so increase in the last 3 weeks), it is well under the $3.70-3.80 we were paying a year ago.  Many people forget that oil and gas are commodities that fluctuate in price in part due to supply and demand pressures.  As we head into summer, more people drive more miles and thus, use more gas.  So are we heading for $3 or $4 gas?  Probably not.  Read an article with a take on that here:

One way for traders and investors to take advantage of higher gas prices is to buy exchange traded funds that focus on these sectors.  That way, if oil and gas prices go up, you make money to help pay for higher gas prices at the pump.  A few big ones to look at are:

United States Oil Fund, LP ("USO")
Powershares DB Oil Fund ("DBO")
United States Gasoline Fund, LP ("UGA")

The first 2 of the above follow price changes in a barrel of oil, the 3rd one focuses on the price changes of gasoline.  Check them out and you can profit when oil and gas goes up, not sing the blues!  Have a safe holiday weekend!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The end of blogging?

A couple of article caught my attention yesterday and today.  First an article on Fortune magazine titled, Men are from Facebook, women are from Twitter?  Basically, this article discusses a recent study about how men and women use the internet for different things.  Not too shocking.  Men like video clips more than women.  Another one, Captain's Blog:  The end of blogging surmises that with the advent of Facebook and Twitter, that blogs are no longer relevant and have replaced blogs for content.  The author basically confesses that since he now posts so much on Facebook and Twitter during the day, that he doesn't have time for blogging anymore.  While I also use Facebook and Twitter, I do not feel that I can convey my thoughts on a particular subject within 140 characters.  I need more room to express how I feel about things.  So I will continue to blog.  I am even getting requests from people to link to my blog!  How cool is that?  Maybe there is a future in blogging!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What is customer service?

The old adage "the squeaky wheel gets the grease" may be what some companies think about customer service.  In an effort to get a feel for customer complaints and respond in a quick and efficient manner, several companies are now dedicating a portion of their customer service to Twitter.  Yes, some businesses are assigning a person to watch and respond to Twitter feeds, answer questions, and handle customer complaints.  See a list of companies doing this here:

Now to be sure, the 800 numbers and help desks won't go away, but it is refreshing to see companies adopt new ways to help customers by using new technology, rather than brush it off as a fad.  For me, I think this is the way people will embrace Twitter, rather than following your favorite celebrity to see what he or she is up to.  Sorry Oprah.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Bloggers get credit

I'm no fan of the New York Times or Maureen Dowd, but I was happy to see the news of a fellow blogger getting his due credit for a story he wrote that was apparently copied, in part, by Ms. Dowd in her column, without giving proper credit to him.  Read the story here:

As they say, you can't trust liberals!  Now we have proof.  By the way, the blogger is Josh Marshall, and his blog is called the Talking Points Memo.  Not sure if I will become a regular reader, but at least I wouldn't plagiarize his stuff!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Auto Nation

Yesterday's news about the Chrysler closing of roughly 25% of dealerships nationwide, and GM preparing to announce the closing of approximately 1100 more, have many people thinking about cars.  While this is certainly bad news for the owners and local communities, it should be good news for folks looking to buy a new car.  While some of these dealerships may close down, others will remain open as used-car dealerships or possibly switch to another brand.  As a general rule, buying a car is a personal choice, not an investment.  It is pretty hard to make a case for buying a new car over a used or pre-owned car.  Depreciation is the main reason.  You can usually find a better deal on a 2-4 year old car with low miles.  Hybrid cars are another area of confusion.  While saving money on gas and getting better mileage is preferred, to trade in your paid for vehicle for a new Hybrid almost never makes sense.  The gas savings would take years to pay for the difference in price, in some cases 7-10 years (or never).  Check out the neat calculator on Edmunds, to find out of it's worth it to trade in your gas guzzler for a new gas sipper:

The results may surprise you!  If you want to get a higher mileage vehicle, one alternative is to try a motorcycle!  Well, it looks like rain today, I guess I'll have to take my Durango again!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Micro blogging

Twitter has been used for many different things:  posting status updates, i.e., facebook style; pushing out news updates and promoting websites; and "micro blogging"!  Because of Twitter's self imposed rule of only allowing posts with a maximum of 140 characters, users are forced to make short entries.  Bloggers who have taken to Twitter as a new style of blogging, have turned their blogs into a "stream of consciousness", with multiple posts on a given topic.  For some, it is effective and informative.  For others, it can be nothing more than a bunch of random thoughts about nothing.  The reader is left to decide whether to "follow" him or her, or move on.  The ultimate is to be included in the "Suggested Users" section of Twitter.  Once there, you have hit the big time!  I'm still waiting...22 followers so far!  Follow me @scottjwheeler!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Is Twitter for real?

Ask a person on the street is they use Twitter and you might get a glazed look on their face.  Twitter?  What's that?  Or you might get a curt answer like, Twitter?  Who's got time for Twitter?
But if you were looking for a job and heard about someone who found a job using Twitter, you might check it out right?  That's what happened to Jen Harris.  Read her story here:

Now I'm no Ashton Kutcher, but I do have a Twitter account, @scottjwheeler or you can go to:

I also have a profile on Linked-In and of course, Facebook.  As a financial professional working for a regional bank in the St. Louis area, I have questioned my marketing department about what our bank is doing regarding establishing a presence in the social media or new media realm, and got the answer, "nothing".  But as I have discussed before, this is not an area to be a late adapter.  I just read an article this morning with a title that says it all:

Maybe they'll remember I told them so!  

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Indentity Theft

While everyone these days should be aware of Identity Theft and protect themselves from it by being careful what you do with your personal information, sometimes thieves can still steal it from you.  Take a look at the following story I read this morning, about how thieves have stolen money from ATM machines in New York City:

Now there is one more reason not to use ATM's!  Besides this new threat of having your ATM card and PIN number stolen, many people find it difficult to remember to deduct their ATM and debit transactions from their checkbook balances.  The result?  Overdraft fees!  Banks charge on average $30 per overdraft and that can add up quick.  Think you have free checking?  Think again.  To make matter worse, banks are not very likely to refund any of these charges to you, unless it was their error.  Banks need this revenue to make ends meet and to "pay" for the "free" checking accounts they are giving you.  Banks don't make money on checking and savings accounts anyway, or CD's for that matter.  Banks make money by lending it out to you and charging you interest.  Car loans, mortgages, and credit cards.  That's how they make money!  So check your balances everyday...use your online banking and avoid those nasty fees!  Besides, the tellers like to talk to you.  Come in and say Hi!

Monday, May 11, 2009

You get what you pay for!

People who like to have the latest technology at their finger tips are often the envy of their friends and colleagues, but many times they can be frustrated for buying something too soon before the bugs are worked out.  Computers, TV's, MP3's, phones, and other high tech gadgets can have problems that need to be refined by the manufacturers due to issues not discovered during product development.  Real life usage is the best way for companies to hear about problems.  If necessary, they will make improvements and improve the product for the next series.  This is why it is often best to wait to buy things that are new.  Wait for the 2nd or even 3rd generation to come out.  You will usually get a more stable product with less chances for unexpected surprises.  I am still using a 4th generation iPod.  Still works fine and I have lots of storage room left for music.  It does not play videos and is not the "touch" but it does what I bought it for, play music!  As interesting as I think it might be to have a Kindle, I have not had the desire to plunk down $300 plus for one.  Now they are coming out with generation 3 already, and some people who have the earlier models are upset, one CNBC Host in particular.  This is what you get for being a trailblazer!  My Dodge Durango still plays cassettes!  I haven't listened to my old Duran Duran tape in a while...

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Are You Linked In?

One of my blogs was recently posted on the St. Louis Bloggers Guild website.  My article was called, Are You Linked In?  It was a response to an article I recently read in a trade magazine on the value of using social networking sites for business.  Check it out!

Friday, May 8, 2009

PULSE, Part 2

So yesterday in my training on PULSE, I learned that PULSE does in fact stand for Providing Uncommon Levels of Service Everyday.  The goal was to rethink how we treat our customers (clients) and fellow employees.  They encouraged us to think of our workplace as our second home, since we spend so much time there.  Helping customers feel welcome, comfortable, and important, are key, as well as, helping them to navigate our company's processes and systems.  To see how other businesses are doing this, we went out on a field trip to a local mall.  My group went to 2 stores, Build-a-Bear, and Bose.  At Build-a-Bear, an "associate" greeted us when we came into the store and asked us if we needed any help.  She told us about the process of building a bear and the associated costs and options.  Once she realized that we were not buying, however, she quickly turned her back on us and left us for another shopper!  Interesting.  Just because we were not buying today, doesn't mean we will not buy ever.  At the Bose store, the "team member" greeted us and also asked us if we needed help.  Unlike the Build-a-Bear lady, he stayed with us as long as we were there, answered our questions, asked us probing questions, told us about their installation and customization work, as well as, showed us a demonstration of their Home Theater set-up.  Even though he knew we were not going to make a purchase, he treated us with respect and showed interest.  That's what we want to do with PULSE, do some detective work, show interest, make customers feel welcome, and have them expect the unexpected!  I even got a free pen!  There's a new way to bank...

Thursday, May 7, 2009


Today I am going to an all day, work related, training course called PULSE.  It stands for Providing Uncommon Levels of Service Everyday (I think).  This course is designed to help employees become better listeners and look for ways to be more proactive with our customers and clients.  Part of the training, I'm told, will be to go out into businesses in the community and see if and how other companies are doing this, if at all.  Should be interesting!  Should be some blog material for sure!  

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Best Job in the World Winner

Back on January 13th, I wrote about the "Best job in the world", which was a new "position" created by an island off Australia to promote tourism.  While it is a real "job", paying $111,000 for only 6 months work (promoting the Hamilton Island and writing a weekly blog), I felt (for me) it wasn't the best job in the world since it only lasts for such a short time.  Then what do you do?  Well, Ben Southall is about to find out.  He was declared the winner yesterday and will begin his new job on July 1st.  I read today about another "best job", working for Facebook!  The social networking company announced that do to their tremendous growth they are moving to a new building outside of downtown Palo Alto, CA.  One new perk for the employees, endless snacks!  This move is designed to keep the employees "close at hand".  One hopes that they will also be hiring a dietitian and open a gym in their new digs.  This may be an interesting story to follow!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

New Media

This morning I am working on a new post for the St. Louis Bloggers Guild.  I do not yet know what I am going to write about, but it will be on the topic of Social Media, or New Media.  As Twitter and Facebook continue to grow in popularity, smart businesses will begin adopting it as a normal way to do business and attract new customers.  I read a magazine article yesterday, in a trade publication called Senior Market Advisor, that suggested that Facebook and Linked-In were "the" way to reach the 18-26 age group!

Monday, May 4, 2009

New Status Symbols

As I wind down my discussion of the Chrysler bankruptcy and what it means to you, I found an interesting quote in an article this morning:  

"The new status symbol these days, trend watchers note, is owning (not leasing) a car that is more than three years old, which helps explain why the sale of certified pre-owned vehicles rose 1% last year while overall auto sales plunged 18%."

Read the entire article here:  How the crisis is changing you!

Here are some more interesting tidbits:

  • Americans are rejecting materialism
  • Spending time with family is more important than ever
  • Debt is out
  • Bling is bad
  • Trust no one
  • Your job is your best asset
All in all, some pretty good thoughts and ideas.  For many people, these notions have come about as a result of being downsized or losing some benefits once taken for granted.  For others, these are practices than have been done for some time but not praised by the media.  It's always a good idea to review your spending habits every now and then.  Asking your self if it's a need or a want can help decide if you make that next purchase.  Paying with cash in the bank versus credit can pay dividends in the future.  I'm happy to know I've got status:  my 2003 Dodge Durango is paid for!  Just wish it got better gas mileage...

Friday, May 1, 2009

Cash for Clunkers

Now that Chrysler has filed for bankruptcy protection, Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep owners are waiting to see what happens to their vehicle resale value.  Especially those who may be looking to sell and buy something new.  The good news is that since Chrysler will remain in business with it's new relationship with Fiat, you won't have to worry about your warranty.  President Obama came out with some hard statements on the Hedge fund industry yesterday, in relationship to the Chrysler deal, but he did give some hope for prospective car buyers with the new Cash for Clunkers program.  What remains to be seen is, when will it become available, how much can I get for my "clunker", and what kind of "new" car to I have to buy to qualify?  A hybrid?  A speck?  Any other restrictions?  And how do I get my voucher?  Stay tuned...  Don't you love government assistance?