Thursday, January 15, 2009

My Take on the Satyam fiasco

Please read about my take on the Satyam fiasco on my other blog.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Globe hopping and personal finance

Maintaining a frugal lifestyle and financial discipline is difficult in the best of times so it becomes even more difficult with the kind of job I have. In the last 6 years, I have lived in 6 different countries and this constant travel has taken a toll on my finances. Though my job pays well, tracking of where the money goes and how much I spend becomes almost impossible with the variation in income, expenditure and also the various currencies involved. It is for this very reason (among others) that I have decided that long term travel is not for me and have decided to be in one place (India).

Would love to hear from you as to how you managed/or manage your finances with a job that takes you to different countries and lifestyles all the time.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My quest for savings: Books

This is the third post in the series on my quest for Savings.

I'm a book addict. I like nothing better than curling up on the sofa with a good book in hand. I started seriously reading books in 6th grade. Started off with "Famous Five", "The Three Investigators", "Secret Seven" and the like and progressed to Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes. Became a Science Fiction fan and read every one of Isaac Asimov's and Arthur C Clarke's books. Having a library of about 2000 books at home helped – (my dad and my uncles were book addicts too) and I'm sure what also helped was that we did not have TV at home until I was in 9th grade or so. TV transmission started in my little corner of India only in mid 1980's.

Back in India, almost all my allowance during the school and college years used to go into buying books. I loved browsing second hand book shops looking for "gems" to add to my collection. Once I got a job, a sizable amount of my salary was spend on books. Though my reading habit reduced drastically after marriage and kids, I still try to read at least a book a week – though it is mostly non-fiction now – like finance, investing , business, science and philosophy.

In the first few months of my coming to US, I had spend around 300 dollars just on books and was looking for a cheaper and more frugal way of getting books that I liked. That’s when I discovered Paperbackswap. It acts as an online exchange for books. You list the books you have and get credits for listing your books. Use your credits for requesting books from others and they ship it to you free of cost – and the best part is that the book is yours to keep. Similarly, if some one requests a book from your list, you ship it to them and get credit for requesting more books. This way, I estimate that I have saved well over 500 dollars in the last 6 months alone by using Paperbackswap. The sites interface is very easy and intuitive to use and its very easy to search for books posted by others and for requesting/reserving books I like. I highly recommend Paperbackswap if you love reading and "owning" books. So what are you waiting for? Get over to Paperbackswap and register – It's guaranteed to save you money!!.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

My quest for savings - 2: Banking

This is the second in a series of posts that I'm planning to make on my quest for the most cost effective and frugal method for things I use on a daily basis. I recently re-located to USA from India and thought it will be interesting to compare what I used to do/have in India versus here in the US.

When I came over to US, one of the first things I did was to open a Checking account with Comerica Bank which had a branch near the place I work. I did not have much choice in deciding the bank as that was the only one willing to open an account without a Social Security Number as my SSN was still under processing . They opened the account on the strength of my office ID as employees from my office are the biggest customers of that bank branch.

I also opened a savings account with them but I was on the look out for a better place to park my savings and I found that with ING Direct which offered 4.5 % interest rate compared to the paltry 0.4 % offered by Comerica. Though there are other online accounts offering better interest rates, I'm not a rate chaser and am happy with ING direct so far.

Within days of my opening the savings account with them, ING offered me an online checking account called Electric Orange which I gladly signed up for – I love online banking and hate to go to a bank branch – moreover, they were offering 4.25 % interest on the Checking account. Only drawback was that ING does not offer paper checks which was fine by me as I had Comerica Checking which has paper checks.

So, I get my pay check credited into my Comerica Checking account and the moment it is credited, most of it is transferred into my Electric Orange account leaving just enough in the Comerica account to pay for bills that I have to use paper checks for. Money left over at the end of every month in the Electric Orange is transferred to my ING savings account on the last day of the month. This way, I get to pay bills that require paper checks from my Comerica account and earn interest for the money I have in my ING Electric Orange Checking account.

Now for the comparison between my banking experiences in US and India. Compared to US, I feel people in India are living in banking heaven !!. Here are a few of the services I enjoyed back in India:

1.Opening a bank account – I had accounts with 3 banks in India – and I never visited the branch even for opening an account !!. Banks send people to my home (or office if I had preferred it) to complete all the formalities and I got my debit card and the account details within 2 days by courier.

2.Transfer money online to any one anywhere in India and to any bank free of cost.

3.Free paper checks.

4.Free bill pay (OK, some banks do offer here it for free).

5.Free Demand Drafts – I just had to go online and request a Demand Draft to be send to any one in India – and the bank send it by courier free of cost !!

6.Free international debit card – they also offered cash back and rewards on purchases using the debit cards.

7.Free stuff /reward points for using net banking !!.

8.Instantaneous updates of my account – I buy something or transfer money – my account was updated almost instantly – compare that to the situation here where it takes at least one business day for the transaction to be reflected in my account.

9.Free phone banking and updates.

The only time I set foot in the bank branch ( I did not know on which city street it was !!) was when I went over to close my account.

To say the least, I'm pretty disappointed with the level of service and the banking charges that are levied here in the US !!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

My quest for savings - 1: Phone service

This is the first in a series of posts that I'm planning to make on my quest for the most cost effective and frugal method for things I use on a daily basis. I recently re-located to USA from India and thought it will be interesting to compare what I used to do/have in India versus here in the US.

Mobile Service: Cingular Pay as You Go

When I came over to US 3 months back, one of the first things I did was to search for a good mobile phone service. I'm not a heavy user of a cell phone so I did not want to lock myself in a long and expensive contract so decided to get a pre-paid "pay as you go" service. After asking around a bit, I decided to go with Cingular (now AT&T) as it had the best coverage in my area - and also because I could get the starter phone (Motorola) with 10 Dollar talk time for 18 dollars from the local CVS Pharmacy. I chose the "simple" plan which charges 25 cents per minute for incoming and outgoing calls. My average monthly usage comes to about 10 Dollars a month and so far, I'm happy with my choice.

The best deal for Cingular recharge PIN's that I could find was with – I consistently get about 2 dollars off from the face value of the recharge card and also get a credit for future purchases.

Back in India too, I had a pay as you go phone from Airtel which is one of the largest Cell phone providers in India. I paid around $ 25 for my Nokia 1100 phone. Call charges in India are one of the cheapest in the world – I used to pay around 3 Cents per minute for local calls and around 7 Cents per minute for long distance.

Home Phone: SunRocket

Best VOIP provider that I could find was SunRocket and I highly recommend them. It costs about $199 for a year (about $17 per month – with free calls anywhere in USA and Canada) – no contracts and no obligations – and you get your cash back for unused months if you chose to discontinue. Keep checking their website for deals – I got a GE 5.8 GHerz cordless phone free and they recently had a promotion which offered 2 years for $199 !!

VOIP is not legal in India – only option is to go in for a land line or what they call WLL (Wireless in Local Loop – which is a hybrid of landline and cell). I had a land line from BSNL – the government owned phone service provider. It used to cost me $20 monthly with local call charges of 3.5 cents per 3 minute call and 7 cents a minute for long distance calls.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Use your loose change to buy Postal Stamps

I keep a small box in my locker into which every now and then I throw all loose change that tend to accumulate in my wallet. Recently the box was almost full and i was looking for a way of using them without too much work. I had seen coin changing machines like Coinstar in my local CVS pharmacy but they charge something like a 9% commission for changing them. Moreover, I can only get back gift certificates for the coins exchanged and not dollar notes. I did not want to use these machines due to the commission charged and to the fact that i could not get dollar notes in exchange.

It was then i chanced upon a USPS Stamp Vending machine in my office cafeteria which accepts coins of all denominations - 1 cent, 5 cent, 10 cents etc. So I use my loose change to buy stamps I need - no commissions and moreover, saves me a trip to the local Coinstar machine. Some people may argue that they do not need so many stamps but I buy stamps almost every other month so that is not much of an issue for me anyway. For people who buy stamps infrequently, suggest that they buy forever stamps that can be used literally, forever !!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Conducting a "Moving Sale" in India

When we decided to move from Chennai to US, we were in dilemma as to what to do with our furniture, books and other stuff. We did plan to transport some of our stuff to our parents house but did not want to spend a lot of money on transporting all our stuff - neither did we want to leave them in the house and keep it locked.

We wanted to sell our furniture if we could and looked at the options we had. One way to sell was to advertise in magazines like free ads ( but we did not know how effective it was. We hit upon another idea - of conducting a "moving sale" of sorts and advertising locally in our apartment complex.

Here is how we went about conducting the "Moving Sale".

1. We printed fliers which listed details of all the stuff we were offering for sale with an asking price against each item. We also described the condition of the item in detail. We also explained that we were offering stuff at 50 to 60 % discount to what we paid for. Also offered discounts for someone buying more than one item.

2. We put up fliers in all the notice boards in the apartment complex (we have about 220 apartments in our complex).

3. We did not sell for an offer bellow what we asked for since this was more of a "restricted sale" open only to residents from our apartment complex, word would have gotten around and we could have ended up selling for much less than the offer price.

I was really surprised by the response. Except for the king size bed (which was also eventually sold), we sold almost all the stuff which we had for sale within a couple of days of fliers being put up. Lots of people commented us on our "innovative method" of conducting a "moving sale". Though garage and moving sales are very common here in the US (will write about them in a separate post) they are not at all common in India (especially in Chennai). The response that we got for our sale shows that the demand is there if one is willing to try it.