Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Stores Offering Discover Cashover

You can use a Discover Card to get cash back at the grocery store. Discover calls this the "cash over" option, and you can choose it when you checkout at the supermarket. For me, this works out to be a nice interest free loan, since I pay off my card every month. It also saves me a trip to the ATM. Officially, Discover says that most supermarkets have a Cash Over limit of $50, but I've noticed that my local Safeway limits me to $40.

Since I first mentioned getting cash back at supermarkets when using a Discover Card, there have been questions about which supermarkets allow cash back on this credit card. According to, the following stores offer cashover:

Big Y, Hannaford, Safeway, bloom, Heinen's, SAM'S CLUB, Carrs, Meijer, ShopRite, Dominick's, Pak'n Save, Sweetbay, Food Lion, Pavilions, Tom Thumb, Genuardi's, Randalls, Vons, Giant Eagle, and Walmart.

It used to be that the cashback goes on your monthly statement as being a purchase. But Discover changed this so that they now classify the cash back as being a "cashover". They separate out the "cash over" part from the "purchase" part of the transaction. And, you don't earn the regular Discover Card cashback bonus on the cash over amount.

Warning: I do not recommend this strategy for people who run a balance on their credit card because you will end up paying interest charges on the cash over amount.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

More TD Ameritrade Spam

I haven't written about this in a while but, it is happening again. I am getting spam at my Ameritrade Email address. To protect my Email, I use a unique Email address for my Ameritrade account, which is accomplished through Yahoo's "AddressGuard" feature. Because I've only given this unique Email address to Ameritrade, they are supposed to be the only entity that knows this unique Email address.

However, I've recently gotten significant amounts of spam at the Email that only Ameritrade is supposed to know about. Whenever this happens, I will usually change my Email address to a new one, and delete the old Email address. This has happened four times already, and it seems that my Ameritrade Email address has been repeatedly compromised. I know that this problem has been an ongoing a security issue at Ameritrade.

Shortly after I posted my last article about TD Ameritrade Spam, TD Ameritrade announced that they discovered "unauthorized code that allowed an external source to retrieve certain client information" from their system. How can this "unauthorized code" magically appear in their software? Clearly this was an inside job, as it seems that TD Ameritrade has a more than a few disgruntled employees...

By contrast, the Email address that I use for E*TRADE, and several banks has never been compromised. There is also a reason why I cannot delete my existing Email address, and setup a new one with Ameritrade. It has to do with courtesy fill notifications. I have asked Ameritrade to change my Email address, but the courtesy fill notifications are on a different system that retains my old Email address. I spoke to Ameritrade's customer service people about this issue. But, the Ameritrade CSRs are so incompetent that they don't know how to change Email addresses for courtesy fill notifications. In fact, some Ameritrade employees aren't even aware that they offer a courtesy fill notification service.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Early Retirement Revisited

I haven't written about early retirement in awhile. So, let me first reiterate what I think are the three common rules among those who have retired early:
1) Living below your means (LBYM).
2) Maintaining a diversified investment portfolio on which to draw from.
3) Using a conservative 4% rule of thumb as a baseline for withdrawing from your retirement savings.

In my previous posts on PFStock, I have mentioned Billy and Akaisha Kaderli. This couple retired in their late 30s, and claim to live off of $24,000 per year. In my communications with the Kaderlis I have determined that they live in what is commonly known as a mobile home. When I asked my readers if they thought that they could live off of $24k a year, or retire to a mobile home, I did not get an overwhelming response. So, one could say that early retirees are often willing to do what most people are not.

I recently came across a blog that purports to be be about early retirement. But, the author is not actually retired, and the blog really focuses on an extreme version of what is known as "voluntary simplicity". Some suggestions mentioned in this blog are turn down the heat to 55F, stop drinking milk, and reuse gift wrap. This got me thinking that practically anyone could claim "retirement" by reducing their consumption to a very small fraction of their net worth. The real question then is "would you be willing to reduce your consumption to this level?"

Along these same lines is the book Your Money or your Life (YMOYL) written by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. I read YMOYL a while back. While there certainly is a lot of good information in this book, some of the suggestions may be equally unappealing to many people.

The authors of YMOYL encourage the reader to thoroughly evaluate the value of each item they have, and track every last penny that comes into or out of your life. This is an activity that I personally frown upon, as I don't think that people should obsess about the minute details of every financial transactions.

YMOYL also advises investing virtually all of your money in US government bonds. I think that a more diversified investment portfolio of both stocks and bonds is a far more prudent choice. A portfolio made up of purely bonds violates rule #2, above. Also, as a historical note, Joe Dominguez died of cancer at age 58. And, this always left me with an uneasy feeling that the lifestyle he advocated in YMOYL may have contributed to his early demise.

In any case, I don't think that early retirement should be solely about depriving oneself to reach these goals. I will not tell you to give up eating meat, drinking milk, or buying your favorite latte drinks at Starbucks. Regardless, I think that everybody can make small steps that will bring an early retirement closer to reality.

Today, I will leave you with a quote from Robert Frost:

Never ask of money spent
Where the spender thinks it went.
Nobody was ever meant
To remember or invent
What he did with every cent.