By Erin Flesch on October 13th, 2008 • Taxes, Life

It’s coming up on that glorious time of the year again. The leaves are changing, the air is brisk, school is in full session and the IRS tax deadline looms near. Wait. What? Now you’re probably thinking, “hey, wasn’t that like 6 months ago? You know, the well-known doomsday, gotta-file-my-taxes-today-or-else date of April 15th?” (although the most recent tax day fell on April 17th instead) (Correction: the odd deadline was in 2007, not 2008). Well, my friends, it is and it isn’t. Some people (my procrastinating self included) did not file their taxes by April 15th, instead choosing to simply file an extension form that gives them six extra months of leisurely tax preparation time. So now I, along with 10 million other people who filed an extension in 2007, face a new deadline: October 15th. It’s just as scary as April 15th, but with the added pressure of being the “for real this time” deadline. This deadline is not only for filing taxes, but it's the last chance to get that sweet stimulus check most people have already used (although not necessarily to stimulate the economy).

As of Aug. 29th, the IRS has issued 93 billion dollars in economic stimulus checks, and I’d hate to miss out on that money train. Or as I like to call it, my own personal government bailout. So while most of you live your normal lives tomorrow night, I will be locked in my bedroom surrounded by W-2 and 1040A forms, quietly weeping into my calculator.

--Erin

The pictures are taken from photostreams 1 and 2 and used with the permission of a Creative Commons license.

By Cody Wetmore on October 10th, 2008 • Cost Saving, Holidays, Life

Halloween is only a few weeks away, and again we’re faced with the dilemma of finding the perfect costume. My definition of perfection is when it costs under $5. Homemade costumes are not only cheaper, but they let you show off your creativity by making something out of nothing (ex.: this guy's werewolf costume). Last Halloween, for instance, my friend Derek used green Kool-Aid to stain his skin and hair, and cut the legs off some purple sweatpants to become the incredible Hulk. He completed the costume with an old shirt, which he tore apart halfway through the night. HULK SMASH! So hit the thrift stores and the back of your closet. You might be surprised at what you come up with. Here are a few other low cost costume ideas: •    If you don’t want to pay $50 for an Iron Man costume, get some cardboard, boots and silver spray paint and become a literal iron man. The concept can easily be turned into any kind of robot. • Cartoon characters and Muppets like Bert & Ernie usually require only a single color of cream makeup and a trip to the nearest thrift store. • Discount and dollar stores can be a great place for group costumes. You and your friends can purchase SWAT team, firefighter, or police officer plastic playsets and lock down any place you go. •    Get a XXXL T-shirt and go as a little kid up past his or her bedtime. •    Find a few red leotards, making you and your friends the (allegedly) underage Chinese gymnastics team.

Making your own costume gives it that much more personality. Anyone can shell out $50 for a pre-made costume, but going to the time and effort to assemble your own can make it that much more memorable. Plus, if it gets wrecked, you only spent $5. If anything, promise me you won’t be like every other idiot and go as The Joker. --Cody The pictures are taken from photostreams 1 and 2 and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.

By Cody Wetmore on October 8th, 2008 • Budgeting, Economy, Government, Life

Last week, Congress passed a $700 billion bailout of the financial industry. By most accounts this isn’t fixing our economy, but is merely shoring up its losses. If a recent Harris Poll is any indication, the economic stimulus plan enacted earlier this year, in the form of $300 rebate checks, has had a similar effect. It found that two-thirds of economic stimulus checks were put toward credit card payments and savings. Although it’s too early to tell if the original stimulus plan has had much of an effect on the economy, some have suggested we send out a second round of rebate checks.

Do you think this would have a positive effect on the economy, or will it merely offset the rising cost of commodities like fuel and food while we sink even deeper into debt? What are your thoughts in the wake of our government’s record setting bailout?

--Cody

The picture is taken from this photostream, and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.

By Jens Odegaard on October 6th, 2008 • Budgeting, Free, Internet, Life

Trust me, I know personal finance conjurs up visions of absolute boredom, punctuated by brief daydreams and the occasional doodle. But I'm here to prove to you that personal finance isn't nearly as boring as your Crocs wearing, sweater vest donning, toupee wearing math teacher made it sound. There aren't many better ways to save money than by getting something for free (and if there are better ways, let me know). So, in consultation with some other brass staffers, I've put together a list of fantastic websites to help you get your FREEk on:

You might be asking yourself, "Ya, but is there a catch." Of course, what doesn't have a catch these days? Most of the free offers require you to fill out a survey(s) and/or provide your email and address. I keep one email address that is strictly designated for junk email, and I figure I can always toss out any real junk mail I receive. In my opinion, a quick survey is a small price to pay for a free subscription to U.S. News & World Report (see, the free offers aren't all just random stuff). Maybe you're looking for something a little more substantial than just a free magazine or USB thumbdrive. Don't worry, I talked to Big Suit, one of our resident computer geek... er, champions, and he pointed out these sites to me:

Take advantage of free stuff. That's a motto that even your math teacher can get behind. If you have a favorite free-stuff site, leave me a comment. Oh, and this is where I sound like the uncool guy: don't forget to use a little caution when it comes to free-stuff sites--scams are out there. Never give out personal info such as your credit card or Social Security number unless you completely trust the site. If the site looks about as legit as your math teacher, then steer clear.

The picture is taken from this photostream, and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.

I officially just had my mind blown (in a good way, like: "Dude, that was an amazing rodeo flip, you just blew my mind) On Monday, the Dow dropped 777.68 points, the S&P 500 lost 8.4% of its value, and here's the slap shot to the unprotected pearly whites of the stock market--overall the market lost $1 trillion

Here's how much $1 trillion is: if you spent a million dollars a day, it would take you 2,739 years to spend a trillion bucks. That hurts. The reason that the market fell faster than a lead balloon filled with velcro aerobic weights was because Wall Street thought they might not get bailed out. Panic time. Now here's where your faith in the logic of the stock market really takes a beating. On Tuesday, the Dow went back up almost 500 points.

Talk about a roller coaster ride; this was more like riding out a hurricane in an ultralight aircraft. The volatility in the market spurred the Senate to pass a version of the bailout yesterday. And today, the House, which had previously slammed the door on the bailout plan, passed the bailout.  Evidently, it had become more clear that the original bill had been updated to provide more protection for taxpayers. Also, it was more apparent that a bailout plan was needed to open up credit. But, even though the bailout passed and was signed by President Bush, the stock market still fell due to ongoing fear about the credit market. You see, credit is frozen more solid than a Canadian duck pond. Even qualified people can't get a loan. It's the backlash to those high-risk mortgages that got us into this whole mess in the first place. Check out this video to see the consequences of buying what you can't afford.

Leave a comment with your thoughts, and stay tuned for more updates next week. If you want to catch up on our recent coverage of the financial disaster, go here and here.

We've covered a lot of topics in the brass Ridiculous column, from refurbished missile silos to uncommon funeral techniques. Last year, columnist Stephen Ullmer uncovered outrageous CEO compensation. But that story is never over, and with the Wall Street crisis front and center in the news these days, so are executive paychecks. According to Newsweek, the CEOs who had a hand in this year's financial crisis have been dropping left and right. Lehman Brothers was the company that started the most recent chain reaction. Its CEO Richard Fuld walked out the door with $22 million in his pocket, after saying "the worst is behind us" in April 2008. Oops. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were in trouble earlier this year when they were nearly forced to declare bankruptcy. When Uncle Sam finally stepped in, Fannie had racked up $800 billion in debt, and Freddie had $740 billion. At least we can be reassured by the fact that regulators stepped in to keep Fannie and Freddie CEOs Daniel Mudd and Richard Syron, respectively, from receiving their multimillion dollar exit bonuses. Alan Fishman of Washington Mutual heads for the door with $11.6 million in severance cash. Oh, but he was just hired three weeks ago with a nice $7.5 million hiring bonus. Not bad. Granted, three weeks is hardly enough time to run a company into the ground (though Duncan from the Buried Life got fired as CEO of eBay in just a day). That dubious distinction belonged to Kerry Killinger, who left a month ago and is eligible for $20 million in severance pay. The only bright light? At least AIG's former CEO Robert Willumstad refused his $22 million severance package, which seems only fair considering that he started in July and the company tanked in September. I have to give him credit--he probably didn't have a whole lot to work with. We can hope, but whether or not the bailout bill will be able to limit compensation for CEOs is still up in the air. --Jennie

Well, we’re in quite an economic pickle, aren’t we? The goings-on of the past few weeks have left me feeling an unfamiliar mixture of outrage, disbelief and frantic optimism. The upside to all of this financial turmoil is that it has propelled me to become more politically active and engaged than ever before (granted, I’ve only had one other presidential election under my belt, so there’s not a lot to compare).

Last week I watched my first ever presidential debate and actually paid attention. I believe I should be receiving some sort of medal shortly… We should see this year’s elections as an opportunity to wield some control over our current dire situation. Young people have always had the power to swing an election, and although we like to talk, sometimes our bark is bigger than our collective bite. It always seems like we were busy that day. But no more! Just mosey on over to sites such as canivote.org, declareyourself.com or rockthevote.com and make sure you’re registered to vote. If that doesn't suit your fancy, you can find links to voting sites everywhere, including Facebook, MySpace, and local organizations like public libraries or courthouses. The deadline for registering is approaching (it varies by state) and the elections themselves are just over a month away. Say it with me: “I am going to vote on November 4th.” I promise you won’t regret it.

--Erin

The picture is taken from this photostream, and used with permission from a Creative Commons license

By Jens Odegaard on September 29th, 2008 • Cost Saving, Travel, Life

Clear water. Palm trees. Sea turtles. Honolua Bay. Waikiki. Ten days in Hawaii (Maui and Oahu). Yes, I'm that cool (not really). No, I'm not that rich (my mother-in-law--thank you--paid for the whole trip).

So, ya I got a free ride to Hawaii, which in some ways is better than a free ride to college (no homework), but just because I wasn't paying out the bucks for the airplane tickets, the condo, or the meals, didn't mean I wasn't keeping my eyes peeled for good deals.

Tip #1: Watch out for cute tourist stores  that overcharge for just about everything. Odds are that the ABC Stores (Hawaii's answer to 7-Eleven, with a location on nearly every corner) will have the same wiggling hula girl, hand-carved (?) tiki keyring, and irreplaceable tropical Santa Christmas ornament for a lot less. Or, and I know this doesn't sound very paradise-like, get your gifts at Wal-Mart. Seriously, it really is "Always Low Prices," and they have a surprising selection of Hawaii-related items (like the hats in the picture, $1.98 each).

Tip #2: Get yourself a hotel or condo with a kitchen and cook your own grub. We went to Costco on day one and saved a whole mess of money. My favorite meal in Hawaii was the grilled tri-tip, baked potatoes, and fresh salad we made one night and ate on the roof of our condo (there was a dining area complete with Weber grills and patio furniture). Okay, I did eat some really good local food too. Mixed plates are onolicious (local word for super-delicious) and relatively cheap ($5 to $13 depending where you go).

Tip #3: My mother-in-law made our ticket purchases, car rentals and our lodging reservations through priceline.com. We stayed at the Hyatt in Honolulu for $150 per night. A flyer in our room said that the room usually went for over $350Kayak.com and travelocity.com are other good discount options.

Tip #4: Don't get eaten (or bitten) by a shark. Okay, this isn't a money tip, but it could be (hospital bills are expensive). When I was out surfing at Waikiki one evening, a shark about my size (6' 2") jumped out of the water and ate something about 20 yards away from me. The locals kept surfing, so I did too. Hey, what can I say--the waves were good.

The beach photo is from this photostream, and used with permission from a Creative Commons license.

By Jennie Bartlemay on September 26th, 2008 • Video, Life

Everyone met Keo Farm in the August issue of brass|MAGAZINE. Keo is a huge Lakers fan, and was an excellent designer here at brass. In fact, you'll see some of his awesome layouts in the upcoming November issue. Unfortunately, Keo got traded to another magazine. See what happens when he finds out: *Ironically, after this video was shot, Keo really did leave brass for another job opportunity. I suppose life imitates art. We'll miss you Keo! --Jennie

By Jens Odegaard on September 25th, 2008 • News, Recession, Investing

Wall Street is in big trouble and needs a big bailout.  Here's a special Thursday update: The effects of Black Sunday aren't over. On Monday, I  explained how the biggest bankruptcy in history started a chain reaction that resulted in the government proposing a $700 billion bailout plan. Though there has been some hot debate in Congress, it looks as if that bailout plan is going to happen mainly because, as President Bush said, there is fear that without action "major sectors of America's financial system are at risk of shutting down." "This rescue effort is not aimed at preserving any individual company or industry -- it is aimed at preserving America's overall economy," President Bush said last night.

That's right, without the bailout America's economy is in danger of non-preservation (destruction).  Because of this, it appears that the bailout will happen. In effect this will make the U.S. Government a gigantic investor in Wall Street, and the government is going to play the market. This was all explained in the President's Address To The Nation last night.

Today, Congress laid out a plan that modified the original bailout, but kept the basic principles. Up to $700 billion could still be spent, but the Treasury would only get $250 billion now, $100 billion later (if there is still an emergency), and $350 billion in May 2009 if needed. Executive pay for the rescued companies could also be capped and the government would have a financial stake in the companies. This proposal is pending votes by the House and Senate and approval by the president, but is expected to pass soon. Interesting times to say the least.

Keep this in mind, though the bailout is apparently needed, this will add close to $1 trillion to the national debt. What if the market doesn't play out the way everyone hopes it will? What will happen to the $700 billion in taxpayers' money that was put on the line? I don't know, but I'd like to hear what you have to say. Leave me a comment.   

The picture is taken from this photostream, and used with permission from a Creative Commons license.