Monday, December 27, 2010

Tax Tips Giveaway 2011

The folks at H&R Block have provided me with 5 online codes, each of which can be redeemed for H&R Block At Home Premium Federal Online Tax Preparation (a $50 value), to give away to lucky blog readers.  H&R Block At Home was formerly known as TaxCut. This giveaway is  for an (Tax Year 2010) online version of H&R Block At Home. While federal tax preparation is included in the prize, state returns are not included ($34.95 extra cost). For the purposes of preparing federal tax returns, this online software  should be adequate for nearly all taxpayers to complete their own taxes.  Although the software includes free federal e-file, you may have to pay  extra if you want to also efile a state return.

I have decided to hold a random drawing each week (awarding one code per week) for 5 weeks for the software codes. The first drawing will be on January 14, 2011 and continue weekly until February 11, 2011. In order to enter:

1) Any reader can post a comment below describing your best tax or money saving tip.
2) For an additional entry, web site owners can link to this post, to let other know about this contest.
3) Lastly, my fellow bloggers can add PFStock to your blogroll (must be  accessible from blog's main page) for one more entry in the drawing.

You can enter up to three times using the the form below:

If the entry form doesn't show up click here to go to the entry form directly.

Note that this drawing is for an online version of the H&R Block At Home Software that requires Internet access. If you do not feel comfortable with using the Internet to prepare your taxes, I would suggest purchasing H&R Block At Home 2010 on CD-ROM. Unfortunately, I don't have any CD-ROM versions of the software to give away but it is available in many stores such as

The drawing is limited to US residents. Visit H&R Block for details about the online software. Winner will be randomly picked from among the qualified entries received by  February 11. Winners will receive an online key code by Email to access the H&R Block website. The "key code" works like a gift certificate and is used on the payment screen before your taxes can be filed. In order to prepare taxes online with H&R Block, you will be required to create an account on their website. Good luck to everyone who enters!


This promotion is held in conjunction with
Note: H&R Block At Home provides tax preparation software. It is up to the individual winners to determine the suitability of this software for their tax situation. PF Stock does not provide tax advice or technical assistance. Contact H&R Block Customer Support for help with their tax preparation software. Opinions expressed here are those of PF Stock.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Guest Post: The Art of War Applied to Personal Finance

Sun Tzu’s "The Art of War" has been referred to by military generals the world over for hundreds of years in order for them to plan and execute successful strategies in the face of the unpredictability that is battle. However, "The Art of War" can be successfully applied to non-military situations which are still equally treacherous, such as personal finance.

Approaching your personal finances with some of the principles from Sun Tzu’s work can help you wrestle back control over money and debts, understand how best to use your financial products and plan for stable financial future.

If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.
If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.

If you know both yourself and your enemy, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.

One of the most recognisable passages from "The Art of War" you can apply its message to your personal finances in a number of ways. First you will need to make sure you know your opponent and in the case of your personal finances the one standing in the way of your victory, the one who wants you to fail is the inherent weakness in your life or your attitude which always trips up your best laid financial plans. Identify your weaknesses and once you know and accept them you will be able to conquer them, whether it is the mountain of impulse buying, the pointy temptation of a sale, or the seemingly unguarded savings balance which beckons you to attack, only to be trapped by the inevitable zero balance.

Secondly, you need to know yourself and where your weaknesses are your enemy, your strengths are who you truly are and want to be. If you see yourself as an organised person buy coloured notebooks and pens, or set up spreadsheets to track your budgets and spending. If you are motivated by goals and checklists set savings targets for all of your goals and reward yourself when you reach them.

Now, knowing both your enemy and yourself you can use your strengths to defeat your weaknesses. For example, use your organisational strengths to calculate exactly how much money you will need each time you leave the house and take only that amount.

One hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the most skilful. Seizing the enemy without fighting is the most skilful.

It is much easier to maintain financial security than to try and claw it back. Therefore avoid getting into debt in the first place by making a working budget and sticking to it. When you know how much you have to spend you can avoid spending on credit and you can also start a regular savings plan. It is also much easier to save regularly over the long term without conflict, rather than strike up a battle to furiously save at the last minute for a goal.

All warfare is based on deception.

Never will those who wage war tire of deception.

It is important to think of your financial institution as one who is waging war on you – they are not simply lending you money to buy a house or paying interest on your savings out of kindness, they are doing so to turn a profit. Your financial institution makes their money from fees and interest and making sure that you remain unaware of how fees and interest are applied so they reap the maximum charges.

Therefore, make sure you read the fine print on all of your financial products because you may find you don’t have the number of free transactions on your everyday account which you thought you did, and you may find that it is the compounding interest being charged on previous interest and fees which is making your credit card balance so hard to conquer.

Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to the battle, will arrive exhausted.

Another important reminder to be organised and prepared from the beginning because when you know the contents of your budget at all times, when you know your current account balances you can plan your spending and be ready and waiting to ward off an attack by your enemies – your weaknesses.

Also make sure you plan your spending, for example pay your bills in advance several days before they are due so you know the money arrives on time, you’re not rushed and you don’t forget.

Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical.
If it is to your advantage to make a forward move, make a forward move; if not, stay where you are.

Remember that you are making changes which are right for you and it is not about the products other people use or suggest. This means you shouldn’t just have a credit card for the rewards and you don’t need to pay extra for an offset mortgage if you can’t keep your savings balance topped up.

Also don’t make changes to your personal finances unless they are to your advantage. You may not have to change everything about your finances and some things can stay the way they are.

Indirect tactics, efficiently applied, are inexhaustible as heaven and earth... There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than probably can ever be heard. There are not more than three primary colours... There are not more than five tastes...

There are five essentials for victory:

He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.
He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.
He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all ranks.
He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.
He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign

While many of these five principles are in the same vein as others already applied here, it is important that you fight with the same spirit throughout your ranks – uninterrupted for personal finance victory.

This means you need to apply these principles to all aspects of your life because your entire life is affected by money and the state of your finances. If you are in a relationship make sure you maintain control over joint and individual finances, always knowing that you are both working towards the same financial goals.

About the Author:
Alban is a personal finance writer at Home Loan Finder, a home loan comparison website.

Monday, December 6, 2010

How Does My Income Compare?

Have you wondered how your income compares with that of your neighbors? This is the classic case of keeping up with the Joneses. Curiosity definitely gets the best of people -- wanting to assess how one is doing compared to others, especially those in their own neighborhood.

I recently came across an article from Slate that focuses on income inequality. It is interesting reading in itself, but what really caught my eye was a box that asks you to enter you zip code and income. It then comes up with data for the average income for your zipcode, and the median income for your state.

I snagged that box which uses Java Script code, and posted it below. I will note that the data for state median income comes from the U.S. Census Bureau. The comparison data by zip code comes from a website called IncomeTaxList. Personally, I would take the comparison information with a grain of salt. We live near the edge of a zip code where literally crossing a street into the next zip code would result in a difference of over $25,000 in income. What do readers think of this tool, and the data that it presents?

Some additional reading:
Annual Income and Net Worth
Annual Income Survey
How much do you make?

Where do I stand?
Enter your zip code and income to find out where you fall on the curve.

How you compare:


Sources: American Community Survey (State and National Data), IncomeTaxList (Zip code data).
NOTE: All information you enter is private and will not be recorded or stored in any way.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

$45 Giveaway from CSN Stores

Fellow PF blogger, Seattle Simplicity, is giving away a $45 gift certificate redeemable at CSN Stores. To enter the drawing, you have to post a comment to her article: $45 Giveaway From CSN Stores. Also, you can link to that post, or add her blog to your blogroll for additional entries. The deadline for this contest appears to be December 10, 2010.