Financial Journalists? No Thanks!

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When a so-called financial journalist pays late fees on their credit card, you have to wonder about their credentials.

I rail against journalists a lot here, not because they are "fake news" as the President alleges, but because today, you can be utterly uninformed and inexperienced and be a "journalist". Newspapers and television have cut their budgets dramatically, which means even less pay in a field that was never noted for its high pay - other than for a few superstars with major networks and major followings.

Not only that, in the past, people never set out to be "journalists" in college, but rather were people with varied backgrounds who became journalists, or dabbled in journalism at some time in their career. Samuel Clemens and Ernest Hemingway never went to "journalism school" to study how to be a "journalist". I doubt H.L. Menckenor Edward R. Murrow did, either. We didn't have such courses of study back then - people were expected to know things, not just know how to write newspaper articles.

But today, you can go to such schools - which largely didn't exist back in the day - and learn nothing but how to write stories. Since you don't have any real experience in life, the content of your stories may be lacking, but the format and "punching it up with quotes!" will be spot-on. Oh, and today, you learn all about how to sell eyeballs, too.

What got me ranting this morning was an article on CNBC by several of the writers and editors who admitted to some financial failings - the admissions I applaud - and how they are going to fix them. Again, silence is the friend of the con-man and the scam artist. If people remain silent, out of embarrassment of their financial mistakes, no one can learn from them. So, in part, I applaud their article as it admits to financial failure - from people who should know better.

But on the other hand, the mistakes are real novice boners. I mean, embarrassing admissions that they don't track their spending or even pay attention to their credit cards? What sort of stuff am I talking about? Well, let's go through the whole embarrassing list. And yes, I have done many of these same bonehead things myself, in the past. But then again, I am not an editor or writer for a financial news channel, for chrissake!

By the way, if you click on the article, you'll get ads for all sorts of crummy deals, like roll-over credit card offers. Not a lot of deep thinking going on at CNBC - this is the shallow-end of the kiddie pool. And maybe that is part and parcel of the problem.

Anyway, let's dive in:
The number-one place where I get frustrated about wasting money is withpricey subscriptions that automatically renew. Recently, an old Wordpress site I had from college to house my clips and portfolio was renewed, costing me an unexpected $400 for the domain and associated email account. Several times in the past year (or so), I received emails stating that the domain providers policy was changing, but I carelessly ignored them.
Disregarding those email notices ended up being a huge mistake since I definitely didnt pay $400 when I set this website up as a college student and so, clearly, the changing of terms had to do with price. In 2020, Ill be paying closer attention when Im sent emails regarding any changing of terms to my online accounts and will make sure Im not holding onto subscriptions I no longer want or use.Anna Hecht,moneyreporter
Right off the bat, you can see where this is going. People not paying attention to their finances because they are "too busy". But there is more going on here. To begin with, never, ever set any online membership (or any membership) to "auto-renew" as they will auto-renew forever. Funny thing, but early on in this blog, a reader suggested I move it over to Wordpress, and I checked it out and found them to be cumbersome and hard to use. Back then, I had to download some sort of software to make it work, and I decided to take a pass. I'm glad I did.

When companies start circling the drain, the first thing they do is start charging "legacy" customers for fees. Webshots did this when it was sold several times. People had signed up for a subscription to their screen-savers, and when Webshots abandoned that business, most folks thought that was that. Well, someone else bought the company, and the customer list (and their credit card numbers) and started charging again. It is the old AOL trick - charge 'em and hope they don't notice, or think it is "too much hassle" to protest.

Credit cards expire, of course, but as a merchant, you can guess at the new expiry date and run the charge again and again until you guess the right month and year (usually 2-4 years from the last expiry date). If I were that writer, I would contest the charge on my credit card account. I might require some work (like clicking a mouse) and the company might try to argue they were justified in charging (due to the change in "terms of service" - I smell a class-action lawsuit here!) but more likely they would not bother to respond in 30 days and you'd get your money back.

But bottom line, it never pays to set online things to "auto-renew" and it pays to close old accounts when you are done with them. Speaking of which, my domain name is set to expire in a year or so, and I should just close that account as well - those folks at Network Solutions are trying all sorts of chicanery these days, including this stupid .xyz scam. My domain is NOT set to auto-renew, but then again, with those bastards, you never know! (UPDATE: I just logged on and checked this - auto-renew is OFF, but of course they call this "unprotected" and also offered to sell me a panoply of domain name "services" for the $9.99 a month - ugh!).
My husband and I are great savers, but weve always struggled to smartly invest everything weve saved. Im embarrassed to admit we even have somemoney sitting in a CD. My goal this year was to move a big chunk of our savings from a high-yield savings account to abrokerage account. (We already have one that we contribute to regularly, but I wanted to open a second so our money is diversified.)
The problem is I get completely overwhelmed every time I try to open an account. For as much as I write about and edit the topic, I still feel stuck when it comes to this area of my finances. So this financial project is moving to my 2020 to-do list. Hopefully, I actually can accomplish it next year.Lindsey Stanberry, deputy managing editor
This is appalling and sets back the women's movement by 100 years. "Setting up an investment account is so hard! Tee-hee! I'm just a girl and don't know how to use a computer!" WHAT THE EVER LOVING FUCK??????

Sorry, but it is not "hard" to click a mouse, and you can set up an account with only a few clicks. If that is too hard, there are plenty of investment houses you can call on the phone who can walk you through this. We've have or had accounts with Fidelity, Vanguard, Merrill, Ameritrade, Compuserve, and e*trade, just to name a few. It wasn't hard to set these up, usually it took under 20 minutes, sometimes far less.

Merrill has a pretty sweet deal if you are a Bank of America customer. Not only is your account linked to your banking accounts (making transfers easier - something that is handy when you want to make an IRA contribution, or make a withdrawal after you retire). If you transfer over, say, $100,000 you do get preferential treatment as a "platinum" customer or whatever. So it pays to check out those sorts of deals. So far it has worked out well for me.

What is sad to me is that this lady is writing and editing stories about finances, and can't even figure out how to open an investment account.Should we take anything she writes about in her articles seriously? Can we take CNBC seriously? I think not.
My biggest problem area this year was not adhering to the budget I made. I created an extensive budget with all my fixed and unfixed expenses for me and my partner, but when it came to holiday shopping and sales, we went over budget. Next year I want to have a separate fund for holiday shopping and stick to that.Allie White, money reporter, credit cards
This is another infuriating "I'm just a girl" kind of deal. We all want to spend less, but hey, new shoes on sale! Let's go, girls! Grrrrl Power! Yea!This is the progress women have made in the 21st Century? How shameful.

Here's a real simple 100% way to avoid this problem: Stop shopping entirely. Christmas need not be an orgy of spending. It takes courage, but it is OK to tell your friends and family members and coworkers than you are not "exchanging gifts" this year, next year, or ever again. As I noted in my Demilitarizing Christmasarticle, the retail industry plants normative cuesthat you are supposed to spend hundreds of dollars on ever person in your life, every year. In one holiday ad, Best Buy showed a shopping list, which recommended buying a new DVD player for the postman. Our postal person really, really appreciates the cash we give her as a gift, far more than some piece of electronics they probably already have. But then again, these are more tipsthan gifts.

And oddly enough, other than our lawn guy and our postal person, we rarely give gifts anymore. We are not six years old anymore and don't expect a shiny new bike under the tree - and certainly not a car! In terms of spending for each other, since our money belongs to both of us, the idea that one of us should spend money on something without consulting the otherseems alien. Giving a gift to my spouse is like giving a gift to myself. It makes no sense whatsoever.

There is no rule, law, or even social custom that Christmas has to be an orgy of spending, a time of travel or a need to go out and do the same thing everyone else is doing. You are an individualand can do as you please. You are not obligated to rack up credit card debt in order to be perceived as a decent human being.

We've been off the Christmas bandwagon for well over a decade now, and let me tell you, since we ditched the Christmas Commercial Nightmare it really does seem like "the most wonderful time of the year" - for the first time in our lives (since getting that new bike at age 6).
I forgot to set up anFSA accountthis year. The weeks around open enrollment were a bit chaotic last year and somehow, the FSA sign-up slipped through the cracks. That meant that I didnt have any health savings to fall back on this year for prescriptions and co-pays, not to mention my annual eye exam and contacts purchase.
It was a bigger problem than usual this year since I injured my knee and couldve put that extra savings toward doctors bills and physical therapy costs. Its a lesson well-learned double check your open enrollment documents carefully and take advantage of these tax-free savings.Megan Leonhardt, senior money writer
By the way, Megan, there was a typo in that statement - and extra comma after "purchase." I fixed it here. You're welcome. That is an odd thing about journalism today. I make typos all the time - I type at 100 wpm and don't have an editor or spell-check person. I am just some schmuck with a blog.

But mainstream news outlets have cut costs dramatically, and lately I am seeing more and more typos from even storied newspapers like the Timesand the Post(and you know which ones I mean - not the Washington Timesor the New York Post- those are barely even newspapers!). But I digress.

Her comment about things being "chaotic" reminds me of a lady who used to work with Mark in the Real Estate business. Her mantra was always that "I'm so busy!" and things for her were always "chaotic" - even though much of her busyness was make-work or just trouble she created for herself by constantly stirring the pot. It takes very little time to set up your FSA account - maybe 15 minutes, tops. Who is "too busy" to take care of themselves? It is your fundamental obligation to society.

Forgot to set up a FSA account. How do I even address this? I tell you, I am still on pins and needles about my Obamacare plan. I signed up and everything - even got my ID cards. But until the first payment is made, the plan does not go into effect. And if the payment is not made on time - poof! Away goes your health care plan. So you can bet I am watching this like a hawk, and this is indeed one place where "autopay" makes sense on your credit card.

I keep track of these things with simple reminders on Google Calendar, which is also an app on the smart phone and will send reminders by text AND e-mail, to both our phones. You can bet we never forget a credit card closing date, payment due date, or any other such deadline. It takes seconds to do, Megan. Get with the freaking program and use your cell phone for something useful, instead of facebooking and twittering. Sheesh!
My big project this year has been tracking my spending to cut back where I need to andgenerally being more mindful of where my money is going. Doing this andparticipating in activities like a No Spend month has made me reevaluate the utility and value I get out of things I used to do or buy out of habit: lunches and dinners out, picking up inexpensive books that start to add up, going out every weekend out of obligation and on and on.
In trying to be intentional in different areas of my life, learning to say no to other people and to myself more often has been a boon not only to my mental health but to my finances as well. Im hoping to carry that into 2020. Opt out!Alicia Adamczyk, money reporter
Great idea, Alicia. One thing that turned around my financial life was to enter EVERYTHING into Quickbooks. You can use whatever software you want to, but enter the data independently of your bank and credit card accounts - those stupid pie charts the credit card companies and banks provide o(or cervices like mint) are utterly worthless. Over the last decade, since I started this blog, I have been doing this, and the results are interesting. I can see where spending is going up, and nip things in the bud. You cannot control that you cannot measureas one reader reminded me. Imagine the thermostat in your house having no numbers on it.

If you don't track spending, you are flying blind with no instruments. But again, this is something most Americans do - something I did for most of my life. I glanced at credit card statements and then put them in a pile and maybe at the end of the month made a partial payment - if only the minimum payment. Hilarity ensued. Followed by tears.

As for "no spend month" that is just utter foolishness, as I recounted before in this blog. It is akin to trying to lose weight though starvation. "I'll just stop eating entirely" someone says, only to later be found at midnight wolfing down a half-gallon of ice cream as their brain finally revolts and resents being starved to death. Log your purchases, yes. Trendy gimmicks, no.
I havetwo credit cards: One I use for almost everything and one that pays for my gym membership and basically nothing else. Over the past year, there were a couple of months where I forgot to pay the balance on the second one and ended up not only owing interest, but getting hit with a $35 late fee. Thats a HUGE percentage of a bill thats less than $100! But instead of calling the credit card company and asking for grace because I rarely miss payments, I told myself it was my punishment for being irresponsible. It was such a dumb way to lose money!
Im planning to do two things next year: 1. Set reminders to pay the bill every month and actually do it instead of pushing them off for later. 2. Call my credit issuer and try to negotiate the fees if I miss one. Doesnt hurt to ask!Emmie Martin, associate money editor
You should set up autopay to pay the minimum payment on all of your credit cards in case you "forget" - like you are hit by a bus an in a coma for a year. Other than that, you should check your credit card balance dailyand pay off the balance daily. I do it, so can you. It takes a click of a mouse.

Years gone by, you couldn't do this - you mailed a check to your credit card company with something called a "stamp". Today we have these powerful weapons - right in your hand, called a cell phone. Use it - not for facebooking or twittering or other time-wasting pursuits, but to manage your money.

Set your credit card accounts to send you DAILY reminders of your balance as well as any charges that are made. Yea, it is a hassle to read and erase these text messages AND e-mails (we get both, on both phones, for all accounts). For some other, less used accounts, we set the reminders to weekly.

You should know the closing date (statement date) and payment due date on all your credit cards, as well as the balance (which should always be zero) and interest rates. If you don't know these dates by heart, you have no business being an "associate money editor" at CNBC. Set reminder in Google calendar and then reset these monthly. Yes it is a pain in the ass! Money should be - this is your very survival at stake here, and I am not being dramatic. You want to live in cardboard box? DO YOU?

Second, recurring expenses like gym memberships can be death by a thousand cuts. Are you using the gym membership? Seems like an odd question, but the dirty secret of gym memberships is that people sign up, go two or three times and them promise to go again - for years. Meanwhile their credit card is dinged again and again. In terms of exercise, you might get as much simply by walking to work (or to the subway or whatever) or some other, low-cost or no-cost activity (we walk daily on our islands 20 miles of bike trails). Subscription services can be deadly.

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It may seem I am being harsh on these ladies, but that is another interesting aspect of this CNBC article - all the stories are from women. Do women dominate CNBC, or are they just the only ones who are fiscally irresponsible, or maybe the only ones to own up to it (Yes, men try to bury their mistakes, it seems).

But it seems to me that to manage, edit, and write for a financial site and make such elementary boners is nothing short of irresponsible. How can you advise others about finances when your own house is tumbling down?

Or maybe that is the subliminal message here - a message aimed at women - that even these financial experts make these fundamental mistakes and "forget" to pay their credit card bills, or "forget" to sign up for medical care, and thus if they do it, it's OK if you do it too. Let's go shopping for shoes!

But articles like this, in a rare moment of self-admission, illustrate why the rest of the CNBC site or MSN money are so banal and stupid, and promote things like coupon-clipping and whatnot. It is all about clickbait and selling eyeballs, not about offering real concrete advice.

How sad - most Americans get their information from such sources!