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July 2006

House hunting hurdles

Nick over at Punny Money has posted the latest in his "Adventures in First-Time Homebuying" series, examining in this particular segment the land component of homeownership. The timing of Nick's post struck me because a story in Sunday's Austin American-Statesman (registration required) looks at the troubles of first-time homebuyers in this area. The Austin/Central Texas real estate market is hot, hot, hot and that's good for folks already in a house and looking to trade up with the money they make selling their current residences. But relative to other parts of the country, our housing market is not so hot... Read more →

Listen up, D.C.

In the wake of the House of Representatives' effort to add $300 billion over the next decade to the country's deficit via a tricked up mess of a tax bill, comes a report of ordinary citizens who think their leaders -- our leaders -- aren't taking the best steps to solve our most pressing political, social and fiscal problems. A group of average Janes and Joes met a couple of weeks ago to examine several hot-button issues facing America and suggest solutions. The result: Most think we need higher taxes. Many even say repeal of the president's trademark 2001 tax... Read more →

GOP math: $5.15 = $5 million

When do the concerns of workers making $5.15 an hour at Wal-Mart converge with the concerns of the Walton family that owns the stores? When Washington, D.C., says so. Early this morning, while most of us (except for those working for that $5 rate at a 24-hour convenience store) caught some Zs, the House of Representatives voted to increase the minimum wage as long as more multimillionaires are assured they won't face estate tax bills when grandpa buys leaves them the farm. Or, as one Republican Representative told his Democratic colleagues during the early morning floor debate, "You have seen... Read more →

You're busted, Bill Gates!

Since the ol' blog started out today with a call for more humor, I had to share this "confirmation" of some Microsoft features that we've all long suspected were part of our PC's operating system. Too freaking funny! And it does have a tax connection. I found it on TaxProf. See, even -- or perhaps, especially -- the hardcore tax guys need a lighter moment now and then. As you can see from some of the image's terminology -- bloody ages, sodding -- it came from creative folks located in the UK, Budgie's Squawks. Click on over there and I... Read more →

So this is why Katie bailed

Jon Stewart is still my favorite, but after this Stephen Colbert piece, I think I'm going to have to start watching his show more. The sad thing: Even though The Colbert Report and The Daily Show are comedy programs, created to entertain more than inform, they frequently point out legitimate news items that deserve coverage and comment, but get only marginal attention on the network or cable news broadcasts. The sadder thing: Some journalists, print but especially broadcast, apparently are so jealous of the attention, both from viewers that count in the ratings as well as other media coverage, that... Read more →

'Penny anti' efforts

One Member of Congress wants to nickel and, well, nickel us. U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe, who represents southeastern Arizona, read those stories on the high cost of producing pennies and introduced a bill to do away with the single-cent coins. The Currency Overhaul for an Industrious Nation Act, or as the Congressman has christened it, the COIN Act -- I swear, I believe that 90 percent of the time lawmakers come up with the acronym and then figure out a legislative name to fit it -- would, in part, round all cash transactions to the nearest nickel. The required rounding... Read more →

Investigating your home inspector

You had an inspector go through your house before you bought it, right? Good. Or was it? This story of a very unhappy Austin area homeowner who discovered structural problems after moving into his new lakeside home got me thinking about what is usually a routine part of the home-buying process and how maybe it shouldn't be so routine. How did you find your inspector? If you're like most homeowners, your real estate agent probably recommended him or her. Not to say that's a bad thing. Lots of good agents work with lots of reliable home inspectors. But the truth... Read more →

It's baaaacccckkkk! Maybe …

The leadership of the U.S. Senate is refusing to let estate tax reform die this Congressional session. CCH, the tax and accounting publisher, reports that top GOP senators have ramped up last-minute efforts to include estate tax repeal in pending pension legislation. It's a fluid situation. Last week, members of the Senate Finance Committee on both sides of the aisle called estate tax a nonissue among pension conferees. Today it's apparently a maybe issue. Perhaps one of those estate tax repeal supporters described by SFC Chair Charles Grassley as "above [his] pay grade" got involved. Grassley still believes that adding... Read more →

'Fat naked guy' must survive Oklahoma

Richard Hatch, of "fat naked guy" and "Survivor" reality show fame, has been transferred from a Massachusetts federal prison to a facility in Oklahoma City, according to an Associated Press report (read it here in the Washington Post). In May, Hatch began serving his 51-month sentence in the Plymouth County, Mass., federal jail for not paying taxes on the $1 million he won in the television program's premiere season. No one is saying why the feds made the move. Hatch's lawyer, Michal Minns, obviously has audacity that matches that of his client. Minns told the AP that Hatch "should be... Read more →

Calling all carnival fans

Major kudos to Savvy Saver, who overcame technical difficulties to get this week's Carnival of Personal Finance up on time. It seems that Savvy's blog host lost the first posting attempt. Undaunted, she persevered and recreated the Carnival so that it would be up as originally advertised. Given all that work, you just have to give the Carnival a read. And when you do click over there, you'll understand what a feat her double duty was. Personal Finance Carnival #58 includes tons of good links (which you'll over at the Carnival itself; the ones here just link to the Carnival... Read more →

Dealing with the dog days of summer

Summer might be starting to wind down, but some things are still going up. I'm talking specifically about gasoline prices. As I headed to HEB for my weekly grocery shopping earlier today, I noticed that the two gas stations between my house and the store have hiked pump prices in the wake of the latest MidEast troubles. Regular is back up to $2.95 a gallon, with premium topping the $3 mark for the first time in weeks. It made me look a little more closely at the fuel-rebate products on the store shelves. Late-summer vacationers shouldn't expect gas prices to... Read more →

Attention, tax-free shoppers

Back-to-school time is creeping closer, and that means it's also time for several states to hold sales tax holidays. If you live here in Texas, the Carolinas or Florida, you know the drill well. For years, these states have been telling retailers during these special events not to bother collecting sales tax on certain items. It's usually clothing and shoes, as well as some school supplies. In some states, computers make it onto the tax-free list. But some other, more out-of-the ordinary products periodically show up at tax holiday time, too. Connecticut, for example, is giving shoppers looking to improve... Read more →

Indian blog ban backfires

In early June, I got an e-mail from a reader of the blog. Not unusual. Readers like to write, and I generally enjoy the exchange. This message, though, was totally unexpected. It was from an accountant in Bangalore, India, who also writes a monthly column for the nation's largest financial daily, The Economic Times. I was thrilled to hear from someone who actually was logging on from one of the dots in map that I had added to the blog (lower left column). And I was quite flattered as my fellow tax enthusiast-cum-journalist, Lubna, wrote, "Now, your blog is also... Read more →

Tax 'Bell' tolling for Bonds?

Barry Bonds, fresh off breaking the Babe's home run record and eyeing the all-time total set by Hammerin' Hank, was nowhere to be seen at last week's Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Maybe he really was hurt. Maybe MLB asked that he lay low to keep steroid talk off the agenda. Or maybe he was trying to find his income tax documentation. Yep, as I mentioned here a couple of months ago, it looks like Barry is going to be the next celebrity to be taken down not for flashy crimes, but because he stiffed the tax collector. The Associated... Read more →

A wealth of frugal tips

Festival of Frugality #31 is up at Financial Reflections, a first-time festival host. It's an impressive array of bloggings to help you save money, and I'm not just saying that because my grocery store gas rebate report is part of the festivities. Quite a few of this week's items caught my fancy, but I'll just note a couple of royally informative ones: The Bargain Queen's admission that she's a closet geek and secrets of how she stays keeps up with technology while on a budget, and the Prince of Thrift's discussion of his financial mission statement at DebtFree4ever. Check these... Read more →

The heat is definitely on

We moved from South Florida in part because I don't really like hot weather. So I guess coming back home to Texas wasn't the smartest move in that regard. Right now, my WeatherBug icon is flashing 107 from my PC's task bar. I think (hope!) that might be a bit on the high side, but here we go again. Last July, just after we moved into our house, we went through almost two straight weeks of triple-digit temps. But it's a dry heat. OK, some of my fellow Austinites might argue that point. But having lived in South Florida for... Read more →

CBS cooking up eggs-tra advertising campaign

Marshall McLuhan's prophetic proclamation almost 40 years ago has again been proven true, particularly when it comes to television. Commerce and TV have morphed into one entity, with the medium and message solely focused to sell, sell, sell. Now comes the next logical step. Television marketing itself via one of the most basic human needs: sustenance. If you thought the TV dinner was the pinnacle of food and programming, think again. CBS is taking an eggs-traordinary route to try to get us to watch its shows. It is imprinting promos for its prime-time programming on eggs. (Sorry for the bad... Read more →

Sample the investing blog buffet

The latest Carnival of Investing, hosted by Free Money Finance, is now available. A few of my faves: Young and Broke's advice to her fellow young market mavens to chill when your stocks take a tumble, Searchlight Crusade's comments on why volatility is a regular investor's best friend, and Paul's Tips' examination of the eternal housing dilemma: whether to rent or buy. Oh, yes. My look at vice funds is there, too. That's just a taste. Check out the full and filling Carnival menu to satisfy your investing appetite. Read more →

This week's drive around the auto blog

OK, my headline is the tagline from Tapscotts Behind the Wheel's regular introduction to his weekly car carnival . But I like it. I really, really like it. And you'll like the latest Carnival of Cars that Mark has assembled. In addition to my report on the taxability of employer-provided money to help workers buy hybrids, Mark gives us links to ride-sharing options (a popular concept in many cities), a blogger who tells us why an extended auto warranty is worth it, as well as multiple posts on chicks and cars. And oh yeah, there's Smoke's hearse. Why does that... Read more →

It's a grocery store gas, gas, gas

Not to be too crass, but we all know that certain foods can cause gastric distress. Well, my local grocery chain wants to give customers free gas. Let me clarify: free gasoline. San Antonio-based H.E. Butt Grocery Co. has launched Fuel Buck$, a program that gives customers $5 to use toward gasoline for every $25 purchase of select HEB and its Central Market-branded products. The vouchers can be redeemed at any HEB gas station. There are a couple of restrictions. Although goods with the Central Market label qualify, you only get the gasoline rebate if you buy them in a... Read more →