If your cell phone contract is anything like mine, every two years you get a voucher giving you a certain amount of money toward a new phone. That's all well and good, because who doesn't like getting new gadgets? The problem is, what are you going to do with your old phone?

The easiest option, of course, is to just throw it away. But instead you could throw it to someone who needs that phone with just a bit more effort. There are several  charities set up for that purpose:

  • Cell Phones For Soldiers sells donated phones in exchange for prepaid calling cards that they distribute to military personnel serving overseas. So far they have raised almost $2 million in donations.
  • The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence gives donated phones to victims of domestic violence to be used in cases of emergency.
  • ReCellular, a cell phone resale company, has a page devoted to charity and recycling programs for phones.

So, instead of throwing your old phone away, take the time to either recycle or donate it to a worthy cause.

--Cody

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By Cody Wetmore on May 28th, 2009

Though some have already begun this process, all television stations must convert to all-digital broadcasting by June 12. With the number of ads that have warned of this transition, plus an extention of the deadline from its original date (February 17), it's amazing that 2.7% of American households are still completely unready for television's digital transition, according to Nielson.

This is most likely due to the costs associated with transition. Many people assume they have to buy an HDTV in order to watch TV after the conversion.  This isn't the case, as older TVs only need a digital conversion box. All taxpayers are eligible for $40 converter box voucher coupons.

If you're still completely baffled about the meaning of "digital", "conversion" or "TV", go to dtv.gov for more information on how to prepare for digital television.

--Cody

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By Jens Odegaard on May 26th, 2009 • Budgeting, Free

Here's a cool concept for a changing economic landscape: name your own price for what you want to buy. If it sounds too good to be true, it's because cynicism is ingrained in our culture. But this isn't some pie-in-the-sky, communist vision of Nirvana, it's a real life tactic being used in true-blooded capitalism. Radiohead's album In Rainbows was released in 2007 under this profit model, and apparently made money.

Other retailers have decided to follow suit and see if consumers are willing to pay a fair price voluntarily. Here are some examples:

This seems like an innovative approach to incorporating consumers into the purchasing process. But can this model turn a profit over time? Let me know what you think. Also leave a comment with any other pay-what-you-want products/sites that you know of.

For once, it seems that the customer really is always right.

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At the end of last month I laid out a challenge for myself: I would not use my credit card for the month of May. At that time I had $586 in my checking account and was feeling very confident in my abilities to live even cheaper than I do now. "I'm interning at a company that is dedicated to better money management, and I'm a college student," I thought. "Cheap is my profession."  Ha!

After paying all of my bills and buying groceries for the month, I had about $200 to spend on general expenses. Normally, this would get me though the month just fine, but of course unexpected expenses crept up.

First, my bike seat broke in two pieces. There went $25. Then, I ran out of toothpaste, shampoo, and hair product. Believe it or not, that's about $40 all together.

Earlier in the month I spent $12 for a ticket to see a concert for a fundraiser in town. Unfortunately, I didn't get much of a return on my investment. The group showed up two hours late and left after playing three songs because an inebriated college student thought it would be a good idea to throw an open can of Rockstar at the DJ.

On top of that I ate out more than usual this month, which added up to about $54 total.

I still have $36.56 in my checking account at this moment. My old packages of ramen are starting to look more and more appetizing. 

If anything, this challenge has really opened my eyes to where I am spending my money. I get paid on May 31st, which means 10 more days of temptation. Hopefully my credit card will rest peacefully in my wallet until then.

 

Photo taken from this photostream and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.

 

By Lauren Sigel on May 20th, 2009 • Food, Stats, Life

Pizza. It's what's for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Some U.S. pizza makers have even incoporated toppings such as peanut butter & jelly and bacon & eggs to satisfy the cravings of breakfast lovers.

 Here are some stats on just how much we love pizza here in the U.S. of A:

 

  • Pizza is a $30 billion industry.
  • Americans eat approximately 350 slices of pizza... per second
  • 93% of Americans eat at least one pizza per month.
  • Approximately 3 billion pizzas are sold in the U.S. each year.
  • Pizzerias account for 17% of all restaurants.
  • 94% of Americans eat pizza on a regular basis.

 

Who would have known that a food that orginated in Italy would have become such an American staple?

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(Update, July 2010: Wesabe will discontinue its service as of July 31, 2010.)

This is a continuation of the Modern Money Managers series. See past posts on Mint and Microsoft Money.

I chose Wesabe as my Modern Money Manager for two reasons: 1. It's free. 2. My Spanish is just good enough to know that sabe is a conjugated form of the Spanish verb saber, which means "to know, to learn, to realize, or to find out."

So, I like to imagine that Wesabe was chosen as the name because it helps you find out where your money is going. And, in fact, that's exactly what Wesabe does. After you sign up, Wesabe lets you add your accounts (credit card, savings, checking, etc.), and aggregates them in one easy-to-use interface. Here are some features I found particularly helpful:

  • All your "Spending vs Earnings" from various accounts are graphed on the Wesabe Dashboard (think homepage). This lets you quickly and easily see if your finances are in the red or the black.
  • Individual transactions from your accounts can be tagged with descriptors you choose. For example, tag all grocery transactions as "groceries." Wesabe then adds up all purchases for that descriptor and displays the total on a pie graph on the Dashboard--along with all other tagged and untagged purchases--so you can see what piece of the pie is going where.
  • For each tag, you can set a "Spending Target" that helps budget your spending on that type of item.
  • You can join groups of like-minded "Wesabeans" to discuss money-management goals, struggles or issues and to get advice. It's a social networking tool just for money.

Anyway, check it out and get your budget on (here's the privacy policy in case you're interested in that kind of thing). One caveat, when I first started Wesabe, I had to upload my account information and it was kind of a pain.  The first several times I tried it didn't work, but eventually (after adding an upload tool to Firefox) I got it to process the information. It probably helps to read the "Uploading to Wesabe" instructions first--something I neglected to do.

 

 

By Cody Wetmore on May 15th, 2009 • Jobs, Life

In February's brass 10, Interviewer Inquisition, we advised you be proactive in your next interview and take the extra step of asking your interviewer a few questions. While that is important, you're probably more worried about what they're going to ask.

Sites like glassdoor.com can help with that. Members can read reviews of interviewee experiences with a company, which usually include an account of what questions they ask.

Additionally, members can post salary levels and reviews of the company itself. The idea is to help people find their dream job, and avoid an Office Space style nightmare. 

The site works on a "give to get" model, where in order to access their content you'll need to submit information of your own. All of this information is posted anonymously, so if you give your current job a less than stellar review, you don't have to worry about getting a talking to by your current boss.

For a general look at common interview questions, head to jobinterviewquestions.org and CNN's 10 tough interview questions. Prepare yourself as much as possible, lest you fall victim to sneaky interviewer tricks.

--Cody

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As much as I love local commericals, watching TV shows and movies from online sources is growing on me. The same is true for the rest of America, in which 24 million households are projected to use web-to-TV services by 2013.

Sites like hulu.com have enjoyed a steady increase in popularity recently, as they offer an easy and legal way to get our TV fix. But products that allow you to view streaming video content on your TV are becoming more common and lower in price.

Currently, nearly 30% of those age 25-30 already use video game consoles to view streaming video. Last night I used the Netflix "Watch Instantly" feature on my Xbox 360 to watch Fire Down Below. Without having to watch all the commercials, I was able to catch almost half of the movie before falling asleep. Thank you, Internet.

--Cody

Photo taken from this photostream and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.

The U.S. government wants to reduce our carbon footprint bad enough that they're willing to pay us to help out. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the stimulus bill) extended many consumer tax incentives for making your home more energy efficient. For example, tax credits are available for existing homes and new construction that install geothermal heat pumps, solar panels and small wind-energy systems, to name a few.

The government also offers significant breaks on your taxes for buying hybrid or electric vehicles. Want to buy a plug-in hybrid? Go ahead and take off between $2,500-$7,500 your final price tag. For vehicles that are either hybrid gasoline-electric, diesel, battery-electric, alternative fuel, or fuel cell, the tax breaks are based on a formula determined by vehicle weight, technology, and fuel economy.

Depending on what state you live in, you might also be eligible for utility rebates or state tax incentives for energy-efficient homes, cars, and equipment. Make sure to check the tax code before you make any big decisions.

For more specific information on what home improvements or types of cars qualify, visit the U.S Department of Energy’s website or energystar.gov. If you are planning on buying a car or doing any home renovations in the near future, don’t put it off for too long. A lot of the tax credits are only applicable for renovations, installations, or cars “placed in service” on or before December 31st, 2010.

Ahh...coffee. There is nothing better than enjoying a hot, tasty cup of caffeine-laced goodness before starting your day. Unfortunately, the wallets of coffee-lovers across the nation are feeling the pinch. 

Want to cut your costs? You've got a few options:

Option one: go cold turkey and give up your love for coffee altogether. Although this choice will save you the most money, be prepared for the splitting headaches that come with caffiene withdrawal and perhaps even some rocking in a corner huddled in the fetal position.

Option two: buy brewed coffee. Brewed coffee is normally half as much as specialty espresso drinks and many coffee shops offer a wide variety of blends (including organic).

Option three: buy a coffee grinder and either a French press or coffee maker and make your own coffee. French presses are very easy to use, reasonably priced, and don't have to be plugged into anything. They are also very portable and come in all sizes.

A word of caution: if you do buy a French press, prepare your tastebuds for an explosion of amazingly strong and delicious coffee. French presses deliver more flavor due to the fact that the hot water completely surrounds the coffee grounds, allowing the full flavor to be extracted from the beans.

Don't forget to buy a coffee thermos if you decide to start making your own coffee! Not only will you have something to carry your brew in, but many coffee shops will offer discounts if you bring in your own container.

 

 Photo taken from this photostream and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.