Friday, December 29, 2006

Five things you don't know about me

I was tagged by Tired But Happy, so better late than never, here's five pretty random things you don't know about me:

1) I absolutely love to sing, but I have a terrible singing voice.
2) I think almost anything tastes better with cheese on it. Especially cheddar cheese.
3) I wrote a 50,000-word first draft of a novel in 30 days one November. (Okay, maybe some of you know that.)
4) I really can't stand the taste of cough drops. I've never been able to keep sucking on one for more than 15 seconds.
5) I was an intense Star Wars fan in my teen years. I even started tinkering around with mechanical objects because I wanted to be like Jaina Solo. (She's Han and Leia's daughter... there were all these books... oh, nevermind!)

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Holiday gift-giving wrapup!

Hope everyone's having a wonderful holiday season! I am quite happy with my gift-giving this year; instead of giving piles of "stuff," it was much more fitting to my values. These are some of the things I did:

  • Buying fair trade. In previous years, I've tended to buy fairly-traded crafts (or coffee, chocolate, etc) only for recipients who I know would appreciate their origin. But this year, I decided to widen the scope dramatically, and everybody was fair game. It doesn't matter that my uncle couldn't care less what the person who made his present was paid; I care.
  • Giving money or experiences rather than items. My sister is planning a trip with her friends this summer, so what she really wanted was money towards that. I can treat my boyfriend or other friends to a trip, a play, a concert together rather than a "thing."
  • Giving to charity on people's behalf. There's only a limited number of friends and relatives who this can fly with, but for those people, I went with it.
  • Making personal, frugal presents. From baking cookies to burning CD mixes, I substituted time and effort in place of shopping for some people.

I couldn't completely escape the commercialism of the holidays, but on the whole I'm pretty proud of how I did this time around. How about you?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Introducing The Carnival of Ethics, Values & Personal Finance!

How do your values affect your financial decisions? Whether it's what you buy, where you invest, or where you work, when and how do your beliefs and ethics play a role? And, most importantly, are you ready to blog about it?

The Carnival of Ethics, Values and Personal Finance is a space to come together and share thoughts and experience as we navigate the challenges of integrating our money decisions and our broader values. Whether it's based on religion, environmentalism, social justice, supporting your community, or an infinite variety of other values that might be meaningful to you, if you've blogged about it we want to read it!

The Carnival of Ethics, Values and Personal Finance will appear the first Thursday of every month. It will debut on Thursday, January 4, 2007 here at Money and Values. (Please comment or e-mail me if you'd like to sign up to host future editions.)

Click this link to submit to the Carnival. You'll have until 5pm on Wednesday to get your submissions in, but feel free to submit early!

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask. If you'd like an example of how I personally have interpreted the concept in the past, see my posts tagged "money and values"-- but I encourage you to make the definition your own! (Earlier discussion here.)

Edition #1: Penny Nickel at Money and Values, 1/4/07
Edition #2: TBH at Tired but Happy, 2/1/07
Edition #3: English Major at An English Major's Money, 2/15/07
Edition #4: ISPF at Personal Finance for Students and Fresh Grads, 3/1/07
Edition #5: Yoski at Stingy Student, 3/15/07
Edition #6: Donna Jean at The Weight of Money, 3/29/07
Edition #7: Ben at Money Smart Life, 4/12/07
Edition #8: Larry at The Skilled Investor Blog, 4/26/07
Edition #9: TBH at Tired but Happy, 5/24/07

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Games to make you think-- what's better than that?

You're all wondering when I'm going to come up with some good new content, right? "Oh, yeah, sure, you hosted 3 carnivals in 11 days with dozens of great links," you say. "But none of that was written by you, Penny! What do you have to say?" Oh, sure, ask me that right in the middle of the holiday season when I'm up to my ears in holiday cards and baking and shopping!

So why don't you try out this game, Third World Farmer? It falls into the "serious games" genre, but it's actually interesting and fun (when it's not depressing) and if you're lucky and good you can play for dozens and dozens of rounds. Living on the margins, never knowing what random event fate will throw at you this year, trying to figure out if you can afford to invest in infrastructure or need to stick to the basics... it's good stuff (and kind of addictive).

And then when you're done, why not read up on fair trade, since for some people it's not just a game?

Friday, December 15, 2006

Festival of Under 30 Finances

Hi everyone, and welcome to the Festival of Under 30 Finances! I'm happy to be hosting, and I hope while you're here you'll poke around Money and Values a bit, and especially that you'll stop by this post about the brand new carnival starting the first week in January, the Carnival of Ethics and Values in Personal Finance (name is still subject to change!)

The question I asked people for this edition was:

"In selecting a career path (or particular jobs), how have you balanced wanting work that's interesting and fulfilling, and wanting a job that pays well? Is one or the other more important to you, and why? Have you found ways to try to incorporate both?"
Some people not only answered the question, but wrote full posts about it!

English Major's post on the topic was called Office Jobs, Purpose, and Making Money Work posted at An English Major's Money.

"I've been thinking about this question a lot lately. Ultimately, for me, I can't see any amount of money outweighing a feeling of strong engagement with my work and a sense that it challenges me in ways I need to be challenged. As I continue to plan my career, I hope I can plan it with a sense of personal purpose in mind, rather than my bank balances. I think that set of choices will bring me a sense of fulfillment that money simply can't add to a life. I'm not saying that between two equally fulfilling jobs, I wouldn't choose at least partially based on money, but in choosing for the long term between a fulfilling path and a lucrative one, I think that for my own peace of mind, I'll have to choose personal fulfillment."

living almost large wrote about choosing fun over money at Living Almost Large.

"Choosing to go back to graduate school over the loss of income from a good paying job and during the time in graduate school.

One Frugal Girl's festival submission was Best Financial Decisions... I've Ever Made posted at One Frugal Girl. But she wrote a separate post on this topic recently, and she says: "As for the question of balancing life with work see my post:"

Three other people answered the question...

Molly's Brother wrote ‘Tis the Season: Some ideas for inexpensive outings posted at Molly's Brother On A Budget.

"When I first graduated college, I aimed for finding work that I was passionate about AND paid well. After toiling in the film industry--and being extremely well paid--I realized my heart wasn't in it anymore and decided that I needed to feel like my work was important. In time, I know that the money will definitely follow."

HC presented How I Gave Myself a Learner's Permit for My Credit Cards posted at One Big Mortar Board.

"I've been very fortunate in that I found a field in which salary ranges are slightly higher than the average. I chose a position that doesn't quite maximize my income relative to other people in the field. It does offer good benefits and a reasonable amount of work-life balance, and still pays well enough that I can move forward on most of my goals. So I think it's as Goldilocks as it can be."

Wanda wrote Have credit, will travel posted at Well-heeled.

"I think the financial aspects of a job are important, but it's also important that you enjoy and excel at what you do. There are tradeoffs, you just have to find ones that you're comfortable with. If you want to be an actor or a dancer, you have to acknowledge the fact that you might never make it big. If you give up your dream of becoming a dancer to be an accountant, that's something you have to deal with as well. I think the most important thing is to recognize what you're giving up and what you're gaining in return."

Here are the other posts, in the order they were submitted...

Erek Ostrowski presents Getting Out of Debt (Part 3: Reducing Expenses) posted at Verve Coaching.

Jennifer Lynn presents Financial Savviness 101: Making Your Money Work For You posted at Broke-Ass Student.

Laura Young presents The Trouble with Happiness: Understanding the Difference between Joy and Pleasure posted at Dragon Slayer.

Barbra Sundquist presents Outsmart Credit Card Companies at Their Own Game posted at HomeBusinessWiz.

Sagar Satapathy presents Lessons from Mom: 33 Easy Cost-Cutting Tips posted at Credit Card Lowdown.

Bryan C. Fleming presents Money In The Bank posted at Bryan C. Fleming.

David presents Immigrants taking jobs? Jobs are going overseas posted at Worldwide Success.

Steve Faber presents Debt Free Year End Financial Review posted at DebtBlog.

ntbeachnc presents What's the Best Way to Cancel a Credit Card? posted at Beachgirl's Budget Blog.

Victor Fam presents My Strategy Towards Weath Building posted at Victor Fam.

Louise presents Home Sweet Home posted at FrugalBabe.

Joe Cerny presents Proven System to Beat the Lottery posted at Finance-4-Kids.

David B. presents How to Save Money when Shopping Online posted at How Do People Get Rich?.

Erik presents Watch Out For Holiday Scams and Scam Artists posted at Money Crashers.

Jimmy Atkinson presents Top 25 Web 2.0 Apps for Money, Finance, and Investment posted at Ask the Advisor.

Kristine McKinley presents Emergency Fund: Why You Need One posted at Financial Tips for WAHMs.

Laura Young presents Top 10 Things I Had to Learn on the Road to Full-Time Self-Employment posted at Dragon Slayer.

Spender presents Tip for Christmas Gifts for Bosses on a Budget posted at Spending Less.

Will Chen presents High Class Wino posted at Wisebread.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Festival of Frugality #52: Happy Anniversary!

Welcome to the 52nd Festival of Frugality, the one-year anniversary edition! I thought I'd give you a blast from the past by re-posting some of the submissions from the first ever FoF on December 13, 2005, along with what those bloggers are writing about today. (Some of the posts were submitted to the festival, and others didn't submit but did write a post about frugality this week.)

Also, the new Carnival of Socially Conscious Personal Finances is coming the first week of January, and you can read about and discuss it at this post (if you think it should have a different name or you've got anything else to suggest, by all means put in your two cents!).

One year of the FoF and still going strong:

Some of my favorite posts submitted this week:

The rest:

I had to leave out many posts this week, unfortunately, because for the life of me I couldn't figure out how they were related to frugality. Sorry, folks!

Friday, December 08, 2006

How NOT TO repair your credit (and the ethics of blog ads)

This month, I rejected a LinkWorth ad for the first time. Actually, I rejected two, and for the same reason: they were for "credit repair" services. These services are at worst a scam to get access to your personal information, and at best a waste of time and money for vulnerable people. Anything they can do, people can do on their own to improve their credit. But if I run their links, that'll help them show up higher on the internet searches of people struggling with bad credit, instead of the resources people need to understand how to improve their credit. So instead of sending people in the wrong direction, I'll put in my piece to help connect people to the right information.

I'm not an expert on credit reports, credit scores, and/or credit repair, but here are some quick points:

  • Everyone has the right to dispute the accuracy of any entry on their credit report-- and if the creditor can't prove it's accurate, it has to be removed. You only have to send it to one credit bureau, and if it's unable to be verified, it'll come off all three. Credit repair services offer to write the letters, or charge you for templates, but really the letter doesn't have to be anything special and you can find examples all over the internet just by Googling "sample dispute letters," etc.
  • If a collection agency is trying to collect on your debts, you have the right to ask them for "validation"-- proof that the debt is yours. This time you'll want to look for "sample validation letters."
  • If you have unpaid accounts, you should feel free to try to negotiate them with the creditor/collection agency. You can offer to pay less than the full amount, and/or you can haggle over how they report it on your credit report (at the very least, they should call it "paid in full" even if you agreed to pay less than the total due... but you can also try to get them to take it off your report entirely after you pay). Make sure you get things in writing!
You can really learn a ton about credit repair online; just be careful you're reading reputable sources. Message boards are also great-- lots of people's advice and stratgies and perspective, including many who really know their stuff and will make sure that misinformation doesn't stand. One I've used in the past is And if you really feel like you're in over your head, look for a trustworthy non-profit credit counseling service, whose job is to help you out, not rip you off.

What do you think? Either on the topic of credit repair specifically, and/or on whether you turn down some ads and why (or don't run any at all)? And do you have any good resources or tips to share on the topic of credit repair?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Carnival of Personal Finance #77

Welcome to the 77th edition of the Carnival of Personal Finance. Goodness, there were so many submissions! I've highlighted some of my favorites at the start for your perusal (including those that have something to do with money and values (broadly defined!) and the holiday-themed posts); the rest are in the order they were submitted.

Also, you might be interested in a new carnival that'll be starting in January, looking at how our values affect our financial decisions-- see this post for discussion, these posts of mine for examples, and check back here for more info soon!

Money and values:

Why Do We Save Our Money? at Binary Dollar!

Think Money Wouldn't Change You? Think Again at Dragon Slayer's Guide to Life

Would Steve Jobs Have Kick-Started Your Quest for Financial Freedom? at The Time & Money Group

Modest Needs - Assisting Working Families with Small Financial Crises at Blogging Away Debt

Is Financial Happiness Relative? at My Financial Awareness

EXTREME jobs - why you should get one at Well-heeled: climbing the networth ladder in heels

Nice surprise in this month's electric bill at Blunt Money

How You Can Extend Your Life and Fatten Your Wallet by Planning Ahead at Money Smart Life

Charity Spotlight 1: Child Abuse Prevention at No Credit Needed

The holidays:

How to Keep From Over Spending this Holiday Season at Beacon Financial Tips & Tools

The Young Tightwad’s Guide to Holiday Tipping at Money Under 30

Christmas Shopping without Putting a Dent in your Wallet at Finance-4-Kids

Other informative posts I especially liked:

Employee Stock Purchase Plan (ESPP) Is A Fantastic Deal at The Finance Buff

Financial Savviness 101: Making Your Money Work For You at Broke-Ass Student

10 Tips To Slash Your Tech Bills By $1033.40 at Mr. Cheap Stuff Coupons

Estimating Asset Values and Asset Depreciation at Consumerism Commentary

How Do You Balance Your Checkbook? at The Simple Dollar

A First Look At Asset Allocation at The Digerati Life

Outsmart Credit Card Companies at Their Own Game at HomeBusinessWiz

101 Financial Tips you Never Learned in High School (but should have) at Bankruptcy Reader

How to print digital photos cheap at


And many, many more:

How To Save Money On Credit Cards at

Small Cap Value Pick - Basic Energy Services (BAS) at "D"igital Breakfast - Creating Wealth Everyday

3 Critical Personal Finance Mistakes I have made at Ask Mr Credit Card's Blog

How to Stay on Top of your Finances at The Price of Rice

Ode To Prosperity at Mad Kane's Humor Blog

How Mortgage Originators Lie to Borrowers at The Most Opinionated Mortgage Broker

Frugal Living Wins Over More Income – Anecdotal Evidence at My Wealth Builder

Are We Better off Now? A Look at How Tax Cut Made Rich Richer and Poor Poorer at The Sun's Financial Diary

How to Get Rich Without Going Crazy at Market Poetry

Study Shows HECM Lifetime Tenure Payment Option is Best Choice at Reverse Mortgage Information

New cars may be more affordable, but still don't buy one at The Coin Jar

Using a 529 for non-educational retirement savings?? at Retiring Early

More Education Equals More Pay at Free Money Finance

The Basics III: Opportunity Cost and Risk/Reward
at A Financial Revolution

Got my last free credit report for the year, did you get yours? at My Two Dollars

Surprising 6 figure jobs
at exchange-ingredients

Necessary Evil - Student Loans?
at Living Almost Large

Covered Calls - Too Risky? at The Dividend Guy blog

Where we keep our money
at Frugal Babe

1% Solution for your Financial Life
at Hill's Personal Finance

Debt Elimination Scams to Avoid - You’ll Just Pay Twice at Debt Free

Stay Home with the Kid or Work…Or Do Both?
at Canadian Dream: Free at 45

Deal in Cash
at Queercents

Ebay on the Razor's Edge
at Lazy Man and Money

COBRA Health Coverage for Graduating Students at Understand COBRA

Using Credit Cards Against Overdrafts at War on Credit Cards

Kiplinger's Best Site for Homeowners Insurance Help
at Home Insurance Guide

Paying Your Mortgage Biweekly
at Blueprint for Financial Prosperity

Lemon Award Finalists Named on's Website
at Becoming and Staying Debt Free

myFICO® Falling Down
at Scott on Money

Why You Should Never Tell Your Salary to Your Friends
at Binary Dollar

How Much Does A Chiropractor Make? Not Enough
at Free the Drones blog

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Frugal gift-giving: holiday cookies with a personal twist!

The golden rule of frugal gift-giving is to be thoughtful and personal. If your recipient knows that you put time and effort into your gift for them, and were thinking about them and what they'd like, your gift is likely to be appreicated.

One of my favorite ways to do this at the holiday season is by giving homemade cookies, candy, or other sweets-- and specifically by baking gingerbread cookies. Tasty treats are usually well-received to begin with. But alongside the cookies shaped like snowmen and trees, wrapped presents and wreaths, I also make special personalized cookies for each recipient. Whether it's making cookies that look like their cats, attempting cookies shaped and decorated like cameras to recognize their favorite hobby, apple cookies for a teacher, human-shaped cookies that look like the person in question, or anything else that will tickle their fancy, it's a fun challenge to let your creativity run wild deciding what cookies fit the person and then figuring out how to make them come alive out of dough and icing.

You don't have to be a brilliant artist or a practiced cookie-decorator to make this work; it's easier than it sounds. (Although you'll probably want to plan on making more than you need to give, so you can save the mistakes to be eaten in your own household-- they still taste just as good!) You can use cookie cutters if you've got the appropriate ones, but you can also carve out shapes with a knife just as well-- and the recipe I use even holds up well to being shaped and sculpted by hand. You don't need special equipment for the icing, either; plastic bags with holes cut in the tip work just fine. (I like to use meringue/egg white powder in my icing, but you can make a serviceable icing with just powdered sugar and water.)

And of course, if you have kids, this is a great project to include them in! They may not be able to pull off finely detailed cookies, but they'll have a blast cutting out fun shapes and then bringing them alive with color.

What kinds of hand-made gifts do you give? Are there any special ways you add personal touches?