Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Preparing for an extended recession with I Bonds

***Ethical Grifter Note: The fixed interest part of these bonds will change May 1, 2008....if you are planning on buying, do so tomorrow! The Fed's interest rate cuts are sure to lower the interest rates on these bonds!***

Well, I finally got back into the US bond market today due to concerns about my portfolio in the next year or so and the lackluster savings account rates that I'm currently getting due to the Fed cutting interest rates. I've been searching for a stable place to put my money and still get a decent return rate and after reading numerous articles I think I bonds are the way to go. Funny thing is, over the weekend I visited my father and brought it up. It seems that he's doing the same approach, guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Why the I bond? Well this article at mymoneyblog.com sparked my interest. It sounded like exactly what I was looking for, a stable, medium-term investment with a decent interest rate. I signed up at treasurydirect.com to purchase some, but unfortunately they needed me to validate further and in order to make the interest rate deadline I couldn't mess with that. Luckily, mymoneyblog followed up with this article describing how to buy them at most banks.

What interests me most about the bonds is:

1. You are set with the fixed interest rate (currently 1.2%, but most likely going to drop further on May 1.)
2. You receive a variable interest rate on top of that which adjusts with inflation. The more inflation (including gas and food prices...and those are getting out of control), the more interest it earns.

It was as easy as stopping into my local bank (which I do not have an account with), asking if they sold the bonds, and filling out the form and turning over the cash (make sure you pay in cash to avoid any chance of bank fees). I received a date stamped copy of the form I filled out which assures me of getting the fixed rate that is currently offered and the bonds should be coming in the mail in the next three weeks.

Sounds like a pretty good place to stash some cash to me. Currently the fixed+variable interest rate is earning a total of 4.28%....spanking my ING and HSBC savings accounts.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Refill or create a planner for free at D*I*Y Planner

Planners can help you get organized in more ways than you could imagine. The problem is, refills are expensive, almost as expensive as the planner itself. DIY Planner has come up with the best solution to this issue....make them free. Offering different size templates, DIY Planner can refill your traditional planner or you can even create your own Hipster PDA, a 3"x5" card based answer to the Palm and other electronic PDAs.

The beauty of creating or refilling your planner this way is that you can choose the exact type and quantity of sheets that you want to carry in your planner. Some of the choices are:

- Agendas
- Potential Projects Charts
- To Do Lists
- Product Idea Breakdowns
- Finance Checklist
- Job Search Information
- numerous others, including the basic calendars, contacts, etc.

All of the different sized templates can be found here in both .pdf and .zip formats (the .zip files unzip into .pdfs).

So next time you need to refill your traditional planner or if you're trying to get organized and don't own a planner yet, this should be you're one-stop shop to finally getting a planner custom tailored for your tastes. The price is right too.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Sunday Fun - Free and legal music and movies

Just wanted to provide some quick links to some free entertainment for a nice, lazy Sunday.

1. Amazon Free Music Downloads - Pretty decent selection for my tastes (A lot of the mid-90's punk), but kind of thin in some of the other departments.

2. Public Domain Movie Torrents - A lot of the old black and white movies you see for sale in those "50 movies for only $19.99" sets. These films are actually not copyrighted anymore and you can get them for free here. My top picks are: Night of the Living Dead, the old Flash Gordon series, and all of the old cartoons.

*Note* You can watch some of the movies on the site, but to download you will need a torrent client. I recommend uTorrent, (Windows) and Transmission (Mac) they're the least obtrusive clients I have used. There is also have a beginners guide for anybody who is new to downloading torrents on the uTorrent site.

3. gHacks Free Music List - Very good looking portal for many free music download sites. I haven't checked this out much yet, so there may be some gems.


Friday, April 25, 2008

The Ethical Grifter's Amazon aStore - Grand Opening!

Today is the public Grand Opening of my Amazon aStore! I've been populating it with books and magazines that I'd recommend for reading, as well as the Amazon Kindle eBook reader.

Come check it out! It's a work-in-progress so it will be changing a bit within the next few weeks. One of the main pages that I want to add will be a "Deals of the Week" page where I'll have the best percentage-off deals that Amazon has for the week it's posted.

Come check out The Ethical Grifter's Amazon aStore today!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Video Time: Distraction Theft Techniques..Keep Your Guard Up!

It's been awhile since I've had a video up and with the warmer weather coming around I've been thinking of vacations...just as the targets in this video are on. Even though the video highlights these type of thefts being done while out of town, they're easily done in any public place so it's ok to carry with you a healthy level of paranoia.

The highlighted techniques in this video both show a leanining in technique that will invade your personal space for just a split second or so. This is hard to avoid in many situations, i.e. my sardine can packed subway ride to and from work every day, but these are those times where checking to make sure you have everything should be occurring a little more often than usual. Even if you don't catch the thief in the act, you'll know about the missing item sooner and can take preventative action against the thief running up the bills on any accounts you have.

And speaking of vacations, Travelocity is having a deal on Virgin America flight until the end of Friday this week. I've heard great things about the airline (bigger TV screens than JetBlue at each seat and mood lighting throughout the cabin of all things), so if you're planning a trip soon it might be worth checking out:
Why Drive When You Can Get One-Way Flights from $46+ w/ Virgin America! (Expires 4/25/08)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Don't want to be turned down for a credit card? Find one to match your FICO score

Nobody likes it when they apply for a credit card only to receive a letter in the mail a few weeks later stating that their application has been rejected. With the amount of junk credit sites that turn up with every web search engine it's difficult to know which cards are best suited for your FICO score and which ones you have the best chance of being accepted for.

Financeglobe.com has an excellent tool called Score Match that allows you to input your FICO score and select a score range (Your FICO score +/- 0 to 30 points). With that information they will search their databases and instantaneously show you which cards are the best choices within that score range.

Less credit inquiries equal a better credit score so make use of this tool to keep from getting those dreaded rejection letters

You don't know what your FICO score is? Get it straight from the source at the link below:

30-Day Free Trial

Monday, April 21, 2008

Thinking of starting a business? Here's some great How-To info!

If you're at this site there's a good chance that at least once you've considered starting and owning your own business. Whether it is a small home-based venture or a large corporation that you intend to have there are certain steps that need to be followed.

Our friends at CNNMoney.com were nice enough to create How To Build A Bulletproof Startup - a step-by-step guide on finally making that dream of your own business a reality. This guide mainly focuses on how to get your product idea to take off, but there are excellent tips that can be used for service-based business as well.

Be sure to check out some of the other links on CNNMoney.com's page. There is a lot of good, free information provided through that site.

Another great source of information is Entrepreneur Magazine. I have had a subscription to it for over a year now and each issue has new insights on how to make your business reach it's maximum potential. There is also much information concerning purchasing and owning a franchise-based business. I still don't have the funds to get into this yet, but it is interesting to stay on top of the trends. Also be sure to check out their site at entrepreneur.com for some more free insight to starting and running your own business.

Hopefully, with sources of information like these, it will give you the motivation to make your dreams of owning a business for yourself a reality.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Hot Deals on Amazon.com

Today's a nice, lazy (and rainy) Sunday. Perfect time to do some online deal hunting. Here are some of the best deals going on at Amazon.com right now, but hurry, most of these prices are expiring within the next few days!

First up is the Invicta Men's 10 Collection Watch #3280 It's only $34.99 (usually $125.00) and qualifies for Free Super Saver Shipping. That's 72% in savings...deal ends April 26th though!

Next is a Sterling Silver 3mm Round Cubic Zirconia Tennis Bracelet, 7.25" Priced at $23.99 it's a 60% savings in comparison to its normal price of $60. This deal expires at 2 am EST April 21st, so act quickly. Free Super Saver Shipping on this item as well

For those of you that don't already own it, or just need a new set, the Star Wars Trilogy (Widescreen Edition with Bonus Disc) is currently just $34.99 (50% savings, regularly $69.98). Expires April 29th and comes with Free Super Saver Shipping.

Also, they are also offering a deal where you can Buy one television DVD set, get one free From the ones I clicked on it looks like they all have the Free Super Saver Shipping. Expires April 21st though, so don't delay if there's something you want!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Get rid of junk mail and protect your identity! Part 3 - Telemarketers

Well, we've stopped receiving pre-approved credit offers and insurance offers in Part I and in Part II we stopped almost all of the other junk mail and catalogs, so what next? Part III of course...getting your name off of telemarketers lists.

Luckily, the government is on our side in the battle against telemarketers and has set up donotcall.gov as an easy way for us to take of either our home phone or cellphone (or both!) numbers off of the calling lists. The site looks awful (think mid 90's web design) and the registration for is probably the quickest one that I've ever filled out. That's the beauty of it, it's so basic that it takes no time at all to get done.....so no excuses!

After registering here, there is a 31 day period before the delisting of your number occurs, but after that you will be all set and those calls from the random salespeople that come in right when you're about to eat dinner will cease.

The Federal Trade Commission has a very thorough Frequently Asked Questions section on their page. It's worth checking out if you're interested in learning more about the history of the site and how it the Do Not Call list works.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Part III delayed....CVS & Ann Taylor coupons in the meantime

Sorry about the delay in the series, it seems that the site I was going to link to is down, so instead of giving you dead links...how about some savings?

First up is CVS. Via an email I've recieved I've got a coupon for $4 off your next purchase of $20 or more. Not a bad time to stock up on things. I stopped by this past Wednesday and there were quite a few specials throughout the aisles. This may require a CVS ExtraCare card, which is free at CVS, so if you don't have one just ask your cashier prior to purchasing your items. It expires 4/27/08. Click on the picture for a full-size, printable view.

Next, for the ladies (hey ladies ;) ) is a 25% off all purchases coupon good at any Ann Taylor store. This includes Ann Taylor, Ann Taylor Loft, Ann Taylor Factory Store, and Ann Taylor's online store. It's good from 4/17/08 to 4/20/08 so make use of it quickly. Again, click on the picture above for a full-size printout if you are going to a regular Ann Taylor store.

Hopefully the link that I wanted to share will be active again tomorrow so I can share the trick to getting telemarketers off your back, but for now enjoy the savings!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Get rid of junk mail and protect your identity! Part 2 - Catalogs & The Rest

Yesterday we took care of those annoying pre-approved credit card and insurance offers. Today, we'll get rid of the rest (well, almost all) of your junk mail.

The site to end the junk mail at is dmachoice.org. From the main page select the "Consumer Information" and it will take you to an selection of options to get off different contact lists. The one that you want to focus on is the first: mailing.

Selecting the first option will bring you to a page with a three step process to end junk mail. Since we ended the credit offer junk mailings yesterday, we can ignore step 2 and since step 3 is a pay service that really isn't needed we can avoid that as well. Step 1, however, is the important one. After it is selected you will have to register for the site with a traditional user information form to fill out. Once completed, you're given the option of opting out of catalog mailings (either by catalog name or as a whole), opting in or out of all other mailings, and opting out of all junk mailings. The third option takes care of it all at once, so choose that option. It is much quicker to request this to be taken care of online, but it requires a credit card for authentication that you are who you say you are. It is not charged for this service so you can feel safe in doing so. If you don't have a credit card, however, you can also make the request by printing out a registration form and mailing it to DMA.

After completing this and Step 1 from yesterdays post you should soon be receiving no more, or very little, junk mail for the next 5 years.

Tomorrow we'll focus on less of an identity theft concern, but even more of a nuisance....telemarketer calls. Check back tommorow for Part III!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Get rid of junk mail and protect your identity! Part 1 - Credit Card Offers

Not only is receiving 1-3 pre-approved credit card and insurance offers a day quite a nuisance, but it's also a big risk for identity theft. I can attest to this, as I had a credit card that was maxed out in my name for over six months before I knew about it...then it took about 2 months worth of phone
calls to clear up the situation. Trust me, it's not a fun way to spend your time.

The way to go about stopping the influx of these offers by going to OptOutPrescreen.com and choosing to opt-out of these type of mailings. The opt-out lasts for 5 years, then you'll have to renew, but with the way technology has been changing, a permanent option may be available by then. It really is as easy as just filling out the form and opting out. I did it two years ago and I was amazed that I was no longer receiving offers from vendors such as Capital One (who seemed to really like me), just a few occasional ones from American Express, but since I'm a cardholder through them it's to be expected.

Sign up today, you'll see quite a difference in the amount of junk mail you receive within a few weeks.

**NOTE: Make sure you choose the "Electronic Opt-Out for Five Years:" option...DO NOT choose to Opt-In!!**

Tomorrow, Part II.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Get free money for a 529 college savings plan or cash through Upromise

Upromise.com came about years ago as a way to link your credit cards and grocery/drug store savings cards to a college 529 savings account. This account was funded by purchasing certain everyday items that were affiliated with the Upromise program. Well, the program hasn't changed much over the years, but there are certain things that make this a very worthwhile program to get involved in.

The first is the addition of the Upromise toolbar plugin. For the most part I disdain internet browser plugins, let alone toolbars, but this has proven to be one of the better ones that I've tried out. The best feature of it is that it will auto notify you with a small dropdown whenever you go to a site that is affiliated with Upromise and show the percent you will get back in your Upromise account when making a purchase. Also, It has a "Specials" tab which will show all special offers on the site as well as competitor sites also affiliated with Upromise. Last, and it's more of a vanity thing, it will show your current amount in your Upromise account (The current balance is not working for my account for some reason, but I may be an odd case).

**Note: Most of the affiliates are located on the web. If they do have brick & mortar stores, you usually can get more back by purchasing online**

The next thing, which I feel makes it all worthwhile, is that you can actually request a cash payout in the form of a check instead of funding a 529 account. Since I don't have kids, at first I didn't see a reason to participate, but then I found this on their site:

Can I withdraw company contributions from my Upromise account without transferring them to a savings plan, and if so, how?

You can withdraw your Upromise contributions at any time during your membership. To withdraw company contributions from your Upromise account, submit a letter in writing to Upromise requesting a withdrawal from your Upromise account. The letter must state your full name and exact amount that you would like to withdraw, up to total amount available in your account, pending contributions are not eligible for withdrawal.

For the protection of our members, we require that your letter either be notarized or contain a Signature Guarantee if the withdrawal request is in excess of $200. A Signature Guarantee is a guarantee you can obtain from a financial institution, such as your bank, that your signature is yours and that it is genuine.

Withdrawal letters should be sent to:

ATTN: Customer Care
P.O. Box 55555
Boston, MA 02205-5555

Download Withdrawal Request Form

Checks are sent once per calendar quarter, so you should typically receive your check within 12 weeks of your request being received

To sum it up, you can send their request form (if the balance is over $200 you will need to have it notarized, your bank should do this free of charge) to the above address and your check will be on it's way shortly.

The way I see it, it's additional free money to be earned for my normal spending habits, so what's not to like? Check out Upromise today and start earning some extra cash. Paired with a cashback credit card you can make some serious extra money on your normal purchases.

***Ethical Grifter tip: In case it doesn't show on the Upromise main page, enter code shop-10 to receive an extra $10 added to your account when you make your first online purchase through a linked credit card by 4/30/08***

Monday, April 14, 2008

Earn cash from receiving calls from your friends?!? It's true!!

Brring! Get Calls, Get Cash!

Wow, this was something really interesting to stumble upon. There's a new startup called brring.com that actually pays you for recieving calls from anyone you give your Brring number to.

Basically, the way it works is you enter an area code that you would like your new phone number to be in and you can choose from a random selections of phone numbers within that area code that it comes up with. From there you enter your personal info (the basic deal) as well as your personal or cellphone number. Here's where the magic starts.....

Brring pays you from $1 to $0.05 for each call that you receive through the number given by brring. The caller is subjected to a 10 second advertisement which you can configure (on a 1 to 5 scale by type) and then the call is transferred over to your regular phone number as a normal call. On your end, the call acts just like normal, the phone rings and when you pick up, the person calling is on the other end.

Now, I'm not the type to just set up my friends to being subjected to listening to an ad every time they call (unless they agree to it, which is much appreciated). So I've mainly been using it for things I've been signing up for that require a phone number. Might as well make some money from receiving telemarketer calls right? However you choose to go about this, it's some easy money to be made as a passive income that is truly one-of-a-kind.

Brring! Get Calls, Get Cash!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Focus Groups: A high payout alternate source of income

While I'm a strong advocate of survey sites and other methods of earning income on the side, I've got to give it up to the focus groups as one of the best hourly rates available for just giving your opinion. Many of these panels pay from $50-$100/hour just for sitting around a table with others, listening to a presentation, and then giving your feedback. They typically last from 30 minutes to 2 hours and you are paid upon completion. Not a bad gig huh?

The only big downside to these panels is that they aren't offered anywhere near as often as many other money-making opportunities (I've noticed an average of 1-3 per month in the metro DC area), but other than that it's something not to overlook. Many people don't know about these panels, so your odds of being accepted are pretty good.

So how do you find out about these panels?

Well, I'm only hip to what my friend told me about so far, and that's by checking on Craigslist.org for your local area. If you click on the "Gigs" section on the bottom right of the page, you can then search for open focus groups that are listed. Some phrases I use to find them are "focus group" and "panel", they seem to catch everyone that is currently available.

As an example, you can see what "focus group" brings up in the search results for the DC metropolitan area here.

They're usually held over the weekend, but you won't know until you get in contact with the group hosting them. So give it a shot, nothing beats walking out of a room on a lazy Saturday after an hour with $100 in hand.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Free Philips Senseo coffee maker w/ coffee and storage tin

Alot of free offers I've signed up for in the past have never come through (especially alot of those free t-shirt deals) so I've held off on mentioning this one until I actually recieved the set. It turns out Philips was true to their word, on Monday I recieved an email that I had been accepted to recieve one, and today it arrived.

Accepted?!?! But aren't most free offers set up that you just sign up and it's yours? Well, usually, but this one is set up so that you answer a short series of questions (I promise, it's quick) concerning your social groups/activities and they will let you know if your level of social involvement qualifies for this promotion. **Ethical Grifter note: They're looking for users that have frequent social interaction to help promote their product.**

I put in for this in late October, hoping that it would arrive quickly, but as you can see, the approval process takes some time. Also, there is a $15 shipping charge for everything (which arrives in 1 Senseo box, I don't know if the normal units come with everything though). Not bad, considering the basic Senseo unit you recieve retails for $75 alone. It also comes with 5 $20 off a Senseo coffee maker coupons to share and a $1 off any Sara Lee frozen desert coupon (I hear cheesecake calling).

Here's the link to the questionaire for the free Senseo pack: https://www.sharesenseo.com

Also, here's another quick questionaire to get a coupon for another free bag of Senseo coffee pods: http://www.onlineregister.com/senseo/survey/

As for proof of reciept, here's 2 pics I took right after getting home today on my cameraphone:

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

More Free Stuff! Get over 114,000 MP3's legally

While browsing a few of my sites today, I came across quite a find. It was a post by MythSpell on the fatwallet.com forums linking to the "Free MP3 of the Day" and 2 weeks of prior MP3 archives on cnet.com.

It has a good mix of artists, but I had to do something better for you. After checking out all of the artists on the 2 week archive I started snooping around the site and came across this link....the one that has the full 114,000 (and still growing) free MP3 archive.

It's not quite as easily searchable as I would have liked, but hey, it's all free. I love coming across stuff like this, it gives me a chance to not only find music from artists I like, but also to discover new ones without spending a dime. Enjoy!