Earn, save and protect your money

More savings from ISIS wallet and Amex Serve

June 8th, 2014 by Michelle King

I wrote about ISIS few weeks ago when I reviewed Samsung Galaxy S5. If you have NFC enabled smart phone, you can continue to accumulate free money! ISIS wallet offers $1 per transaction which goes up to $50 per month. This offer is valid until end of June 2014. Remember the reward is $1 per transaction, it’s not $1 for every $1 you spent. If you use ISIS wallet for 3 times per week, you will get $3 cash back. I read about some folks keep going back to vending machines to buy candies in small installments just to grab $1 per transaction! That kind of abuse will make ISIS to rethink its rewards program.

If you refer ISIS wallet to friends and family, you will get up to $150 ($10 per referral). See the details here. I had some difficulty in understanding how to use ISIS. I found this link which is useful. Limited number of shops are offering ISIS payment facility. I use ISIS in Whole Foods, CVS, Office Depot and Walgreens. You can also checkout https://www.paywithisis.com/where.html and enter your zip code to find the merchants who have a terminal to use your smart phone (with ISIS) to pay. There is something called NFC. Your phone should have NFC to use ISIS. Latest Android and Apple phones have NFC.

Local AT&T guy told me that ISIS offers $25 if you link your bank account to American Express Serve card. I just linked my bank account to ISIS. I have not seen $25 credit so far. It could kick in once the verification process is done. I will wait and see.


Samsung Galaxy S5 – Review

April 20th, 2014 by Michelle King

I want to start out saying… “This is an AWESOME phone!”. I had multiple phones before: LG, HTC, etc., Never had Samsung though. I was shopping for bigger phones to use it like both phone as well as mini-tablet. I was waiting for S5 to come out after witnessing all the hype surrounding it. Samsung did not disappoint me!

If you read reviews about this phone, you will see the reviews across the spectrum. Some people say it’s not a big deal, some complain about camera quality is not too high (it’s 16MP folks, isn’t it enough?!). I am not going to repeat what you can already find in the internet. See CNET review, Techradar.

I find this phone very useful. It’s pretty easy to operate. Only drawback I saw so far was S-health app is total waste, it’s not working at all. That stupid thing keeps starting by itself. Other than that, not much to complain.

One good thing with this phone is that it’s loaded NFC (near field communication) which helps you to pay in CVS or Walgreens just by using your phone.

It’s not magical though! You need to add app called isis and add your bank card to it.┬áIf you play it right, you will save about $70 just by using this app!!

Let me explain. ISIS app has promotion running on now. If you add Wells Fargo credit card to this app before 4/30/14, you will get $20 statement credit. If you sign up for American Express Serve card you will get $50. That’s a total of $70, just like that. It’s free money baby! Once you install isis app in your Samsung S5, the app walks you thru these steps. The above links will also help you to understand.

When I bought the phone in AT&T store, the sales guy tried to sell me the accessories like screen protector for $30 and phone case for $35. What a rip off! I find these items in Amazon for $7 and $15 respectively. Now, there is an idea to save another $43.

If you are shopping for Galaxy S5, this blog post already saved you $113! Please share the post in facebook if this is useful to you.

Update on Target Breach

February 1st, 2014 by Michelle King

I wrote about security breach in Target few weeks ago. I shopped in local target during thanksgiving; my card seems to be safe. So far, knock on wood — there is no authorized transactions on my card. However, I used another card in target.com in first week of December. That card information was compromised. Based on news reports, I thought that the problem was isolated to in-store transactions. If you bought something from target.com since November 2013, be alert! Now, I am more reluctant to visit target.com or go to their local store. I did go there last week, but I used cash.

What to do if you shopped in Target during security breach?

December 22nd, 2013 by Michelle King

Like many others, I shopped heavily during thanksgiving weekend. One of the shops I went to is Target. Around the same time, some crooks stole tons of credit card/debit card information from Target. When I heard about it first, I thought that the breach occurred in online. I do not shop in Target.com, I felt relieved. Few minutes later, I went back and read the news again. Then, it hit me. “Holy shit… they targeted card swiping devices in stores!” How that is possible?!

Well, it seems possible. I have no idea why Target was so careless. Target is much better than Kmart like shops. Still, Target probably made blunders and let its gate open wide. The breach is nationwide in scope. If you shopped in any Target locations between 11/27/13 and 12/15/13, check the statements of the card(s) you used in Target every day at least for next few weeks. Typically, consumers are not responsible for unauthorized charges. Target issued statement. They assured that you do not need to worry about unauthorized charges.Still, it’s better to keep an eye on your statements to avoid any kind of nuisance to deal with.

Stolen card numbers from Target already started appearing in black market according to New York Times. If you see any unauthorized charges in your card account, call your bank that issued the card immediately. You should be more worried if you have used your debit card in Target during the above time period. Target assures that your PIN number is not compromised. May be. But, it does not hurt to change your PIN number if you used debit card in Target.

Final word. Do not let this incident stopping you from shopping in Target. It’s a good store with decent customer service. You may want to pay in cash until you are totally sure they fixed the security issues.

Cheap Mobile Phone Plans – Part 2

December 8th, 2013 by Michelle King

After we wrote about cheap mobile phone plans, wall street journal posted relevant article on cheaper cell phone plans. (BTW, Wall Street Journal is running a promotion for $1 for 12 weeks of subscription. You may want to sign up if you are not able to read the content of the link)

Following companies lease the mobile network from big carriers and offer cheaper rates. All companies have “bring your phone” plans, but they may not accept your phones. Check out each site and decide which one is better for you.


Apart from the above list, Net10Wireless also offers better plans.

Cheap Mobile Phone Plans

December 1st, 2013 by Michelle King

If you use Quicken like programs to track your spending, you will find that you spend ridiculous amount for Mobile phone plans and for cable TV services. We will discuss saving money on cable TV in the upcoming posts. For now, let us focus on mobile phone plans.

Companies like AT&T and Verizon are minting money because of consumer’s ignorance. Check out MyRatePlan to see if you can save money on your existing plans. There is a very good chance that you are paying too much to your current mobile provider.

If you are paying around $90 per month for single mobile line AND if your phone is unlocked/no-contract, you may want to check out Straight Talk. These guys give you unlimited calls, data and text for $45 per month!

Related Link: Cyber Monday Cell Phone Deals

How to Find Best Black Friday Deals

November 27th, 2013 by Ram Muthiah

Thanksgiving deals started early this year. Dell ran program for business members last Wednesday (11/20). It sold out 11″ laptop for $270 in few hours. There will be better deals in Amazon, Frys and Tigerdirect on CyberMonday.

Here is the game plan for this thanksgiving.

1. Prepare a wish-list of products you want to buy. This is important. This will prevent you from buying something just because it is cheap. If you buy 16GB SD Card just because it’s selling for $7, you still lose $7 if that SD card sits in your desk for years.

2. Use smartphone apps to find deals.

3. Check out black friday deals in your favorite websites. Most of these websites have already disclosed the deals. My favorites are Officedepot.com, Amazon, Frys.

4. Compare the prices and decide the best store to buy.

5. When Black Friday/Cyber Monday comes, go and grab the deal!

6. If you are going to visit the stores in-person at 6am on Thursday, here is a complete list of various store hours.

U.S. Real Estate Bubble Watch

May 26th, 2013 by Ram Muthiah

If you are looking to buy a house or apartment in U.S., you may need to face some tough competition. Almost every property in San Francisco bay area is getting multiple offers and there are bidding wars. Real estate agents tell me to always bid for price little higher than asking price. It reminds me of 2005. I won’t be surprised if this is going to end badly as happened from 2006 thru 2010. Recently, real estate site Trulia introduced something called “Bubble Watch” to track the real estate prices in U.S. You can read more about this in Forbes.

Trulia’s chief economist argues that we are not in bubble zone, yet. When a real estate site’s chief economist favors buying properties, that is not coming in as a surprise. You need to take his theory with a grain of salt. Do not trust the theory from chief economist of National Association of Realtors as well. These guys are obviously biased. Do your home work. Trulia’s Jed argues that current prices are 7% undervalued. That number is the average for entire nation even if you buy into his calculation. In many areas, like San Francisco Bay Area, the prices are already shooting up. There is no justification for the bidding wars. One of the main reasons is the foreign money inflow. Many foreigners are making cash purchase. Low interest rate is also fueling the market. But, what about the job market situation? There are still foreclosures happening in many parts of the country. Trulia’s economist agree that the next bubble is just the matter of time. If you are not totally comfortable with your job situation or do not have enough down payment, it would be a good idea to rent rather than taking the risk of buying.

If you do decide to buy, check out apps like Homesnap. AllThingsD has good review of this app. The app gives you useful information about financial data about the property and neighborhood information.

Related posts: Right time to buy a house? | Home prices rise again

Jobless rate down to 7.5% – More signs of economic recovery?

May 5th, 2013 by Ram Muthiah

On Friday, U.S. markets cheered after taking a look at unemployment numbers. Unemployment rate is at the lowest level since December 2008. U.S. Labor Department also significantly raised hiring estimates for the two prior months, by a combined 114,000 jobs. Without much argument, this is clearly a sign of economic recovery in U.S. But, the question is will it sustain? Especially with crazy housing boom (and the subsequent bidding wars for real estate properties) in many parts of the country.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 142.38 points, or 1%, to 14973.96. In an interesting development, gold futures are losing momentum which may indicate that investors are willing to sell gold to move back into stocks. Investors start accumulating gold when they feel that other investments are relatively worse and gold is the safe bet. They start selling gold when they feel that other investments are relatively better off.

Some Fed officials are adjusting their hopes for a stronger economic rebound. Economic growth has averaged about 2% a year during the recovery. “We are likely to see brief swings above and below that rate from time to time, but I don’t see a compelling case for a sustained departure anytime soon,” Jeffrey Lacker, president of the Richmond Fed, said in a speech Friday.

It’s not all rosy. The Institute for Supply Management’s non-manufacturing index released on Friday fell to 53.1 in April, from 54.4 in March. This index is still above 50 which typically indicates improvement for the service sector. However, the decline from previous month is something to watch out for.

How to Protect Your Digital Legacy

March 9th, 2013 by Ram Muthiah

We discussed about keeping your passwords strong and safe few days ago. It’s great that you choose a strong password and keep it secret. What if you suddenly depart this world and your loved ones do not know the passwords to your bank or stock accounts? Wall Street Journal published an article about this two years ago. You can find that here. If you can, follow the details in that article. Or share your passwords with your spouse or someone who is really really close to you. If you do share your passwords with others, do not just write down all the details in one sheet of paper. Write at least two sheets of paper. In one sheet, write down the usernames of the financial accounts. In another sheet, write down the passwords. Then, keep the papers in separate rooms. Ok, here is the important stuff. When you write down the passwords, do not write the entire thing. Keep it little cryptic and let the person you share with know how to decrypt it.

Let me give an example. If the password is “ILoveYouJane4Life1999”, write down the password as “ILoveYouJJJJ4LifeWEDDINGYEAR” and let your spouse/friend know the meaning of JJJJ and WEDDINGYEAR. You can play around with this basic idea. Come up with some words/phrases/numbers that are important for both you and the person sharing the password. Stick with pen and paper. Do not write down your plain text passwords in a document in your computer!

Unsafe Passwords

If you are bi-lingual, you can add more spice to your cryptic passwords. Sprinkle other language phrases in your cryptic password and let your spouse/friend knows about that too. I am assuming that your spouse/friend knows that language as well. For example, if you and your spouse knows Hindi, your cryptic password will be “IPyarYouJJJJ4LifeWEDDINGYEAR”. If someone breaks into your house and manage to steal both sheets of secret papers, that guy needs to know a lot before he can crack your secret code. Finally… remember to update your papers when you change your passwords for your online accounts.

If you are tech savvy, try tools like Password Safe and share just the master password with your spouse. I would personally stick with pen and paper rather than using Password Safe tool unless I have dozens of bank accounts! Password Safe tool recommends you to copy/paste the username and password from its database to web form. If someone is recording your keystrokes, you are out of luck. I prefer On-Screen keyboard that comes with most operating systems and anti-virus software products to enter the password in the online forms.

Whew… It seems to me that simplest thing would be to get rid of all online accounts!

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