Archive for January, 2009

Scheduled Maintenance

January 23, 2009

Due to some necessary maintenance at the datacenter where our servers live, we’re unfortunately going to have a bit of downtime tonight. The Wesabe website will be offline starting around 10pm (Pacific), and should be back by about 2:30am Sunday. As always, you can follow our progress on the Wesabe Twitter feed — and I’ll also update this post when things are back to normal.

Sorry about the inconvenience!

Update: due to a hardware failure, the downtime was longer than expected, but the site and all services are now up again. Thanks again for your patience and apologies for the trouble.

Why I hate Comcast and love Boxee and Roku

January 23, 2009

I now have over three complete years’ worth of data in Wesabe, which allows me to discover all sorts of TOTALLY RIDICULOUS CRAP like this:

Comcast Sucks

That’s a Wesabe graph that shows how much I spent on Comcast cable over a three year period. Here’s the punchline: I never once changed my services in those three years. The amount went from an average of $27.88 per month for my 2006 service to an average of $70.97 per month for my 2008 service. Same channels, same house, same everything.

Basically, they’re slowing turning up the heat on the frog. (Yeah, the metaphor is inaccurate. But you know what I mean.) As long as you don’t read the fine print and notice your bill going up, they get more and more out of you every year.

What’s the solution? I love the new online video aggregators that are coming out — Boxee has the buzz (disclosure: Wesabe and Boxee are funded by the same venture capital firm, Union Square Ventures), and Roku seems to be following suit. These companies do for video what Wesabe does for bank data: free it from a bunch of sites and give to you in the form you want.

We’re canceling Comcast. Buh-bye. We’ll set up Boxee and Roku and the total cost (using hardware we already own, anyways) will be less than two months of service at my “new” Comcast rate. And then we’re set.

New Feature: Cutback Tool Helps You Save On Recurring Monthly Expenses (Or How I Caught WaMu Skimming My Savings)

January 14, 2009

Looking for a quick, sustainable way to make a positive impact on your bottom line? A great place to begin is by examining your recurring monthly expenses – those automatically billed, month-in, month-out charges. We’ve launched a new feature called the Wesabe Cutback Tool designed to help you see and save on these memberships, subscriptions and fees.

The Cutback Tool looks for trends in your monthly spending, and flags recurring items on your account transaction page. Next, you’re asked if you’d like to cut back on these items, and are shown the resulting annual savings. If you choose to cut an expense, we’ll show you how long you have to cancel the service before you get charged again, and provide cancellation reminders.

You can track your progress on the Wesabe Cutback page, found on the left side of your Accounts page. The Cutback Summary page keeps track of suggested cutbacks, current cutbacks (those you said you want to axe), as well as any recurring monthly expenses you chose to keep.

In addition to helping find services you can cut out (dang, I haven’t been to the gym in three months) or cut back (do I really need 768 cable channels?), the Cutback Tool is also great at identifying ongoing fees or charges you may not even be aware you’re paying. Several beta testers reported charges of $14.95 for freecreditreport.com, a credit monitoring service they understandably thought was actually free (let’s see…wouldn’t $15amonthcreditreport.com be a more honest name?).

I took a look at my recurring expenses a few months ago (pre-Cutback Tool) and decided to cut Netflix (to avoid the wrath of the red envelope loyalists, let me clarify… I think this is a great service if you are watching movies, which I wasn’t doing). When it came time for me to try out Cutback, I figured it would flag my monthly Doctors Without Borders donation, which it did and I want to keep, as well as this darn $3.95-a-month Earthlink account that I need to cancel. But wait… my Cutback summary said I had a recurring $5 charge to Washington Mutual. Huh? Before firing off a “found a bug” email to Cutback engineer Brad, I checked out the expense.
screenshot_3.png
Sure enough, WaMu has been dinging my savings account for the last six months. I had transferred money out of the account during the summer and haven’t touched the account since, so I wasn’t checking my statement. Ends up my account balance of $295 was below the “account minimum” of $300 (which I didn’t know about), so every month, I’ve been paying a fee. I know I should be more of a fine-print reader, but since I’m not, I’m sure glad the Cutback Tool caught this for me.

Introducing Wesabe Labs (and Pending Transactions!)

January 10, 2009

We have a bunch of features coming together at Wesabe, and some of them require a lot of testing on real people’s data to get right. Others have some interesting design choices, and we like trying some different ideas to see what will work best. Likewise, many Wesabeans like having access to features as soon as they’re ready to try, and love letting us know what they think about the stuff that’s coming up soon.

Other companies make great use of a “Labs” site to try experiments like this. (I think, but I’m not sure, that Google was the first to do this.) We’ve adopted that model for Wesabe and we’re happy to introduce Wesabe Labs. This will be our place to test out new features, and you’ll be able to see some of our upcoming projects by checking in on the Labs page.

Sign Me UpIf you want to try out a new feature, just click the “Sign Me Up!” button next to the feature you want. Be sure to read the detailed description of the feature, so you know what to expect and what might not be working yet. You don’t have to wait to be added to the tester group — the new feature will show up for you right away. If you decide you don’t like it, head back to the Labs page and you can remove it with a single click.

Our first Labs project is Pending Transactions. This allows you to enter upcoming transactions that haven’t hit your bank account yet — for instance, if your landlord takes a while to cash your rent check, you can enter it as soon as you write it, and see how much money you really have left to spend. Brian has been working on this project for a while, and it’s getting better and better as we get feedback from the early testers. We’d love to hear your feedback on it so we can get it right before launching it.

We’ll be adding more projects to Labs as they get to a good, testable point. We’ll make sure to announce them on Twitter as they are posted. Thanks, Brian, for getting this launched, and we look forward to hearing feedback from everyone!

Five Ways To Make Any Financial Resolution A Success (Guest Post From J.D. Roth)

January 8, 2009

This guest post is from one of Wesabe’s new Advisory Board members, J.D. Roth, who writes about smart personal finance at Get Rich Slowly.

With the holidays over, most of us turn our thoughts to the coming year. We begin to make resolutions to improve our lives. Many of our goals are financial: get out of debt, open a retirement account, save for a trip to Europe.

Although we each have different aims, the methods for reaching these goals are largely the same. To achieve financial success, you need to exercise good financial habits, and to make the most of the tools available to you. Listed below are five of the most effective ways to make any financial resolution a success.

Track your spending
By tracking your spending, you demystify money – you begin to perceive it as a tool. You gain a sense of power. You no longer feel that money controls you, but that you control money. Logging your expenses paints a picture of your spending habits as they actually exist, not as you think they exist. Using this information, you can alter your habits. This is an essential money skill, and it’s easy, especially with Wesabe.

Optimize your accounts
For eighteen years, I was an account holder at a large national bank. I paid an $8 “service charge” every month, as well as many other fees. I received terrible service and earned no interest. Over the last couple of years, I’ve finally begun to optimize my accounts. If you haven’t already done so, consider the following:

  • An online high-yield savings account. Even in this era of low interest rates, it’s still possible to earn about 3% on your savings. Internet favorite ING Direct currently offers a 2.75% APY and HSBC Direct offers a 3.00% APY. (I opened an account with ING Direct last year and love it!)
  • A rewards checking account. Believe it or not, it’s possible to find checking accounts that pay interest. Online checking accounts generally pay between 1% and 3%, depending on your balance. But you can usually find an even better deal through your local bank or credit union. Check out this huge list of rewards checking accounts by state for rates as high as 6%! (Those marked with a red asterisk are available nationwide.)
  • A rewards credit card. If you know you have trouble with credit, it’s best to avoid plastic altogether. But if you’re able to use credit responsibly, make sure your credit card is paying you. Avoid cards that carry an annual fee. Find a rewards program that matches your lifestyle. But don’t choose a card just because it offers a signup bonus or because it gives you a discount at your favorite store. Read the terms and conditions. Understand the card’s limitations. Remember: your goal is to pick a tool, like a vacuum cleaner. You’re not looking for a one-time bonus, but a long-term relationship you can live with.

When optimizing your accounts, it’s important to choose systems that work for you. I signed up for a rewards checking account at a local credit union, but the nearest branch is five minutes out of my way. I never use it. I had to compromise by opening on online checking account instead. I earn a lower rate, but it’s an account I’ll actually use.

Fund your retirement

The current economy gives a lot of people the jitters. But if history is any indication, now is a great time to be buying stocks for your retirement. Take advantage of any employer-matched opportunities, such as a 401(k). Also consider starting a Roth IRA.

Don’t know where to begin? Many experts recommend index funds – mutual funds that track a stock market index. For more ideas, check out Wesabe’s simple investing group.

Educate yourself
Nobody cares more about your money than you do. One of the best ways to take control of your personal finances is to embark on a program of self-education. Pick some of the best books about money, and borrow one at a time from your public library.

Want to learn more about investing? Try The Four Pillars of Investing by William Bernstein. Need to get out of debt? Read The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. Looking for the proper balance between money and meaning? Check out the new edition of the classic Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin.

Boost your income
While you can go a long way to meeting your financial goals by reducing your spending and using the right tools, nothing supercharges your progress like a boost in income. If you have the discipline to save your extra earnings, you can get out of debt more quickly, or save to meet your other goals. How can you find more cash?

  • Ask for a raise. Perhaps the most effective long-term strategy for boosting your income is to seek more money at your current job. Over the past few years, I’ve had several readers write to tell me how they’ve given themselves a raise through ambition and ingenuity. Here’s one example.
  • Switch employers. Unfortunately, not every employer is able or willing to offer raises, even when they’re merited. If you’re in a position where a raise isn’t possible, consider finding a new employer. Yes, this can be a hassle. But often the increase in salary makes it worth it.
  • Take a second job. Many people find that the best way to get out of a financial hole is to temporarily take a second job. Nobody wants to work more than 40 hours per week, but sometimes that’s what is needed to get out of debt or to save for a house. Just remind yourself that you’re doing this for a short time. Here are some good ways to earn extra income on the side.
  • Sell things. A few years ago, I was $35,000 in debt. When I finally made the decision to turn things around, one of my first steps was to sell a bunch of the stuff I’d bought with that $35,000. I used eBay, Craigslist, garage sales, and the Amazon Marketplace to sell thousands of dollars in CDs, DVDs, games, and comic books.

Another effective way to increase your income is to pursue entrepreneurship. While working to defeat my debt, I started a small computer consulting business. It didn’t generate a lot of income, but it did provide $2,000 a year that I wouldn’t have had otherwise!

The road to wealth is paved with goals
In 2008, I tried something new. Instead of making resolutions, I set goals. Mere semantics? Perhaps. But I found that when things went wrong, I didn’t give up on my goals as I had abandoned resolutions in the past. I didn’t lose my way – my goals were still there, urging me along.

Experts say that goals should be “SMART” – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timed – but from my experience, what matters most is passion. You have to care about your goal. It has to be important to you. The goals that are most attainable are those that you want more than anything else.

Goals are the fundamental building blocks of success, not just in personal finance, but in every area of life. Without goals, you are living reactively, letting life push you around. With goals, you can live a proactive life, steering toward a destination. When you have an end in mind, it’s easier to see when you’ve made a wrong turn. You know where your path is supposed to lead.

Welcome To New Wesabe Advisors J.D. (Get Rich Slowly), Ramit (I Will Teach You To Be Rich) and Trent (The Simple Dollar)

January 8, 2009

Great news for Wesabe and our members – three of the biggest names in personal finance blogging have joined our Advisory Board. A warm welcome to J.D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly, Ramit Sethi from I Will Teach You To Be Rich, and Trent Hamm of The Simple Dollar.

As Board members, J.D., Ramit and Trent will provide product and feature input, contribute to the Wesabe blog (read J.D.’s post covering five ways to make the most of financial resolutions here), and participate in community discussions.

Named the most inspiring money blog by Money magazine, Get Rich Slowly features down-to-earth tips and simple rules to help people get out of debt and build their wealth. I Will Teach You To Be Rich provides no-nonsense advice on personal finance and entrepreneurship, primarily targeting young people. The Simple Dollar is “for those of us who need both cents and sense: people fighting debt and bad spending habits while building a financially secure future and still affording a latte or two.”

At Wesabe, we view these guys as the Dream Team of personal finance advisors, and know that our company and our members are really going to benefit from their expertise.

Forget the Cabbage Soup – 2009 Is Time For The Skinny Debt Diet

January 6, 2009

Each year, after the festive red and green envelopes in the mail have been replaced by thick white ones with the foreboding “Your Statement Enclosed” on the outside, and the last of the frosting-laden cookies have been polished off, Americans collectively resolve to better manage their finances and to get in shape.

While talking with top fit-blogger Stephanie at Back in Skinny Jeans about the similarities between money and fitness resolutions, we tossed around the idea of teaming up in 2009 to help our respective members make progress on these fronts.

In her typical gettin’-it-done style, Stephanie has kicked off The Skinny Debt Diet to “get women to start thinking about a different set of numbers: accounts versus scales.” She continues, “I think it will be not only good, but very healthy for us to start focusing some of that energy away from our looks and jeans size, and onto growing our bank account size and reducing our debt. If we’re gonna focus on skinny, why not make our debt skinny. Who doesn’t want skinny debt? In fact, I’d love to have a size 0 debt, and think that this is one size 0 that is worth working towards.”

During the entire month of January, Stephanie will be tracking her financial fitness journey, and will continue after that with weekly update posts. We’ve created a Skinny Debt Dieters group on Wesabe, where later this week Stephanie will begin focusing on the four key areas of the debt diet – feelings, finances, fitness and food. If you’re looking for a way to kick-start your debt reduction in 2009 and would also like some great advice for healthy living, this is the group for you!

Tomorrow, Stephanie will be featuring a video interview with Wesabe VP of Marketing Gabe Griego on her site, and we’ll be providing updates on her progress and advice throughout the month.