Category Archives: LESSONS LEARNED

Lessons I’ve picked up, workshops I’ve attended, things you should know.

Story of Stuff

[NOTES ON] “The Story of Change”

I’m watching the entire Story of Stuff series.  Let’s watch it together, or check out my notes on all the videos, here.  Thanks – h!

Notes I took on this video:

  • Voting with your dollar Real change is demanding solutions that work.
  • They studied movements of the past that were successful in creating change.
  • 3 rules of changing the world:  sharing a big idea for change at the heart of the problem,  we will work together until the problem is solved, creative massive actions with all kinds of citizens.
  • Changemakers: investigators, communicators, builders, resisters, nurturers, networkers.  Take the quiz.
  • It doesn’t end at the vote; there are steps afterwards.
  • *** Watch this video if you just need a quick refresher or an upper as you’re about to take on another huge task!

After taking the quiz above, I found that I am an “investigator”…and it rings true:

Investigators like you play the crucial role of exposing both the problems we face and the solutions. Here’s how:

  • Reading, inquiring and learning constantly.
  • Researching facts questions, issues and stories thoroughly until the entire picture is clear.
  • Asking the hard questions and finding the sometimes-dark truths, even when it’s challenging and uncomfortable.

Notable Investigators who have done awesome things to find truth and change the world:

  • Sandra Steingraber

  • Rachel Carson

  • Seymour Hersh

  • James Hansen

  • Peter Gleick

Move Your Money to a Credit Union TOMORROW – Saturday, 11/5

The Occupy demonstrations have made one thing clear: big banks and corporate America can no longer gouge the every day account holder with arbitrary fees and random exploitation. There seems to be a tacit understanding between us: we no longer want to support big businesses that don’t support us. But if our money walks, where will we put it?


Well, I’ll tell you. Tomorrow is National Bank Transfer day, where millions of Americans will leave their big bank and join a financially responsible, people oriented, and community-minded credit union. (Besides, you really shouldn’t be hiding your riches under a mattress. Mattress fires are a real thing.)


To make it even more official, take the pledge to move your money to a credit union this Saturday, NOVEMBER 5, 2011 HERE . Be one of the 650,000 Americans who have already transferred their available funds to credit unions in the last month, and haven’t turned back since running far, far away from their former big bank’s fees


To keep this simple, I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. You’ll find below some links (all found via Google) to help you prep for tomorrow. Know that the credit unions are READY FOR YOU with extended hours and possibly, pastries. Also, bring 2 forms of photo identification, your SSN card, proof address, and your money (oh yeah, that) to start an account.


Read what I’ve gathered below, and go visit the Move Your Money Project for more details.


What is a credit union?
A credit union is a member-owned, not-for-profit, cooperative financial institution. Credit unions are similar to traditional banks in the sense that both institutions offer financial products to customers. Credit union members, like bank customers, have access to checking and savings accounts, CDs, loan products, and credit cards.

What is the difference between a credit union and a bank?

Table taken from this link

Credit Unions Banks
Not-for-profit Profit-oriented
Returns profits to members in the form of lower loan rates, higher savings rates, and free or low-cost services. Returns profits to stockholders
Each person who deposits money is a member with a share of ownership Customers have no ownership in the corporation
Members elect a volunteer Board of Directors to represent their interests Controlled by stockholders and paid officials
Member-service driven Profit-driven
Are federally insured by the National Credit Union Administration or a private insurer Are federally insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
Can serve only those individuals within their field of membership Can serve anyone in the general public

Why are credit unions better?

According to this site:

A credit union is a democratic, member-owned cooperative. So when you join a credit union, you’re more than a member; you’re an owner—and that means you have a say in how your credit union is run.

Credit unions provide the same products and services as other financial institutions—but credit unions are non-profit and exist to help people, not to make a profit. As such, all earnings are returned to their members in the form of high-interest savings and low rate loans.

Credit unions across the country are committed to their communities, offering financial services to underserved populations, engaging youth in financial education, and returning profits to their members.

Credit unions also tend to offer more competitive rates (via DailyFinance):

Credit unions offer most or all of the services you need from your bank, and they generally charge lower fees, offer higher interest rates for your savings, and lower interest rates for loans. Compare these rates for June, 2011, the most recent data available from the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA):

Credit Unions(national average) Banks(national average)
5-year CD 2.09% 1.78%
1-year CD 0.75% 0.59%
$1,000 in a regular savings account 0.25% 0.20%
30-year fixed mortgage 4.78% 4.64%
Classic credit card 11.64% 13.17%
Unsecured fixed 36-month loan 10.37% 11.98%
36-month used-car loan 3.88% 5.61%
60-month new-car loan 3.91% 5.22%

Where can I find one:

or go to Google Maps and search for “credit union”

If you’ve successfully moved your funds to a different bank – tell us where in the comments below!

[VIDEO] @ WNYC: The Real Cost of Unemployment

Above, Prof. Dorian Warren talks about how a combination of hope and seeking justice will propel the world towards change.


RF had the opportunity to sit-in during a live session of WNYC’s The Real Cost of Unemployment, hosted by Farai Chideya. The panel consisted of personal finance expert, CARMEN WONG ULRICH, author of The Real Cost of Living and frequent contributor to outlets including the Today Show, CNN and MSNBC; investor RYAN MACK, author of Living in the Village, contributor to CNN, CNBC and The Huffington Post, the president of Optimum Capital Management, who teaches and mentors entrepreneurs; and Columbia University Professor DORIAN WARREN, who studies labor markets with a focus on communities of color.


What an incredible run-on sentence! Once we find the archived show, we’ll post it right on site!


What sunk in for RF was this:


    • Age discrimination has increased as employers are searching for younger, less experienced workers who are far from overqualification and the retirement age. This has led to a massive pool of unemployed Baby Boomers who range in their 50s and 60s.


    • There are two types of economies that we’ve developed post World War II – a low wage economy between 1945 and 1973 and an economy for people who have received their Bachelor’s degrees. (Warren)


    • Much of the care of the elderly and children fall on women. Much of the time, healthcare access is a primary concern for families, as independent healthcare costs are exorbitant, and healthcare is mostly packaged with jobs. How do people receive affordable healthcare without jobs? (Wong- Ulrich)


    • We have to see two different parts of #OWS. Americans are reacting to having no voice in the political system, and they see no future by continuing to run the economy in this way. Unfortunately, there is a contradiction in society, where the opinion being projected is that “all government is bad, unless I benefit from it.” #OWS is our political voice. (Mack)


    • Political responsibility and political activism aren’t mutually exclusive. (Mack)


    • Is your degree worth it?


    • What is ethical wealth?


    • The middle class is shrinking. In NYC alone, there were districts: Meatpacking, garment, printing, etc. These were the industries that supported the middle class. (Warren)


    • There is no funding for projects. There are no jobs, because there are no projects. Banks are not lending after the bailout. (Ed Dabney, construction worker)


    • They should have create better stipulations in the bank bailout. (Warren)


  • To recession proof yourself, you have to create your own companies. You have to have a survival mentality. (Wong-Ulrich)

Bank of America Doesn’t Think You’re Doing Too Bad. Asks You for $5 More.

Taking a quick break from all the happenings at Wall Street (post forthcoming!), BECAUSE YOU MIGHT BE LOSING MONEY! Seen:


“Starting in 2012, Bank of America will impose a $5 flat fee each month you use your debit card to pay for purchases directly. If you use your debit card only to take out money from the ATM, you’ll remain fee-free.
So far Bank of America has received the most flack because it’s the biggest bank, levying the highest fee. However, many banks are upping their monthly service fees, canceling debit rewards programs or changing the qualifications for opening checking accounts. (Check our handy chart below to see who’s doing what.) In fact, as of this year, only 45% of checking accounts are free, with no strings attached, down from 65% in 2010. “


Crazy right?  Well, you’re not the only one to think so.  As of the writing of this blog, about 200,000 of your closest friends are a bit bothered by this news.  Help them get to 300,000 signatures at !  ABC News even tracked them down for comment:


However, BoA isn’t the only culprit.  Tons of banks are now charging consumers for debit card usage.  Luckily, LearnVest summed it all up for us plebians:

Bank What’s Changed? Does It Affect You? Active?
Bank of America $5 fee for debit card use Yes, if you don’t have a BofA mortgage or $20,000 balance Early 2012
Citibank Higher monthly service fees for many accounts; higher minimums to qualify for free accounts Depends on your checking account; read this for details December 9, 2011
HSBC Higher ATM fees for using competitor’s bank ($2.50 vs. $2) If you take out money at a non-bank ATM In effect
J.P. Morgan Chase $3 fee for debit card use; no more debit rewards program; charge for receiving paper bills Debit card fees apply to some accounts opened in Wisconsin; canceled rewards affect all; if you receive bills in the mail In effect
Regions Financial Corp. $4 fee for debit card use Some consumer checking accounts In effect
SunTrust Banks $5 fee for debit card use; no more reward points Debit card fees for EveryDay Checking accounts opened since June; rewards canceled for all In effect
TDBank $2 fee for using non-bank ATM If you take out money at a non-bank ATM In effect
Wells Fargo $3 fee for debit card use; no more debit card rewards Fee for checking accounts opened in Georgia, Oregon, Nevada, New Mexico, Washington; rewards canceled everywhere Debit card fees start October 14, 2011; rewards canceled October 15
Story of Stuff

[NOTES ON] “The Story of Stuff”

I’m watching the entire Story of Stuff series.  Let’s watch it together, or check out my notes on all the videos, here.  Thanks – h!

The Story of Stuff is a very simple video that everyone must watch. When RF first saw this video a few years back, we were like, “OH SNAP! HOMEGIRL IN THE BLUE BUTTON DOWN IS CORRECT!” Imagine, being able to explain the mode of production, the dangers of corpocracies, imperialism, true democracy, and the effects on communities to 1.5 million people?

Let’s be real. ”Stuff” is what got us all into debt in the first place. Gadgets, cell phone bills, and expensive meals. What struck us at RF was when homegirl said @4:46 – “And if you don’t buy, or own a lot of stuff, you don’t have value.” (Let’s return to this idea soon.)

 The most important lessons:

  • history of production since the 1950s
  • planned obsolescence & perceived obsolescence
  • local living economies
  • close loop production

Please take the time while you fold your laundry:

Dodging the bullet on gift cards…

A couple of years ago, my aunt decided she was very upset with me.  This made several holidays and special family occasions very awkward.  She never actually told me she was upset with me, she just stopped speaking to me.  Because I am an astute observer of the world, I took this as a cue.  Some years later, I happened to be at a family Christmas gathering she hosted.  Surprised to see me, she gave me a Victoria’s Secret gift card that she had in her random gift pile.  While I am eternally grateful for the gesture, I already own a surplus of panties.


When my younger sister noticed this $25.00  gift card posted on my wall for years, she suggested that I finally sell it on Plastic Jungle , a giftcard reseller site.  The process is simple:  you find the gift card retailer in a listing, input the amount, and Plastic Jungle  will pay you cash for a percentage of the card’s value.  It helps to do research on other reputable sites like Giftah or Discount Granny for varying sell rates (ex. J Crew gift cards are available at a 70% sell rate while Walmart cards are available at a 91% sell rate)  and accepted retailers  (ex: J. Crew gift cards are not taken byPlastic Jungle but are  listed at Giftah.)


For my $25 Vicky’s secret card, I used Plastic Jungle.  However, there were some issues verifying my PayPal account so I opted for a check in the amount of $20.25 mailed to me – which was a good thing to avoid the associated PayPal fees. The postage to mail in my gift card was covered by a printed mailer provided via email as a .pdf file by Plastic Jungle .  Once sent, and they confirmed the card’s receipt via email, to tell you your disbursed check is on it’s way.  Overall, I liked Plastic Jungle.  The interface was very easy to use, and it looks pretty professional in comparison to some other sites out there (the next site I will use is Giftah, another trust-able interface.)


So, that  my friends, ups my total on the side. HOLLA!


***TIP:  If you have expensive merchandise from stores you’ve never used, consider returning it for store credit.  This usually comes in the form of a gift card, which you can sell online through Plastic Jungle  , etc.  This will be your best option if you were considering resale on eBay or donation.  Low amount of work, highest return in cash.

31 Days to Fix Your Finances

Next week, I will begin The Simple Dollar’s 31 Days to Fix Your Finances program.


Hopefully by the end of this, I’ll be like this lady in the picture frolicking in some benjamins!


If you’d like to follow along with me, please click on the link above to purchase your own copy for $2!  I’ll be documenting my progress and reflections for the next 31 days – over the month of September.  So, if you want to see the qualitative changes this makes in my life before you decide to invest, then make sure you come back from time to time to check in with the POVERT series.


But seriously, the book is only $2 on Paypal.  That’s like.  A slice of pizza.  I say just do it.

[VIDEO] Cartoon Explains the Current State of the Economy & Why You’re Poor As Hell.

RF enjoys this trend of Youtube-accessible animation being used to explain scary (and very adult) economic situations.   This video covers inflation, stagflation, the recession, and answers why the U.S. Treasury can’t just keep on printing dolla-dolla bills, y’all!  ALSO, this is the first time we’ve heard the current state of the economy called “a global economic collapse.”  So, this animation ends on a bit of a dark note: “The only thing we can do is to prepare for very. EXTRAORDINARY. CIRCUMSTANCES!”  OMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMG!  LXD - Save us from impending doom with your impeccable dance steelo.  kthx!   Now that we better understand this situation, we  just hope the US didn’t borrow from Sallie Mae.  Because they be blowin up phones allldatime like cray, OHkayyyyy?  (…and we don’t even owe close to $14 trillion…)   Please take the 5 minutes to watch:

UPDATE: Adam Baker, a favorite blogger of ours, of Man Vs. Debt recently blogged about this video, too!  In his post, he covers the way these larger systems affect the average American family.  If you don’t follow the blog, Adam is a father to an adorable toddler, and currently lives with his wife in New Zealand.  They’re originally from Indiana, and sold all their belongings after a round of several debts to travel the world.  RF loves the blog, but you should check out what other people are writing in response in his comments section, too!   *Featured image source:

The New York Times Paywall Might Make Americans Dumber.

I remember when Le Monde was unavailable as an online version while I was an undergraduate in college some years ago.  If you tried to search for it, you were met with a splash page containing its logo and the subscription rate for its paper delivery.  Though I still don’t know a lick of French, I’m glad I have the option to access its fine reporting after a series of speedy clicks.


What’s no longer free: The New York Times.   I know we’ve had a good season or so to really get used to all the paywall features on the site, but I’m thinking about the impact this may have on the new generation of scrubs that live out here in this jobless world.


I remember in the mighty heyday of AOL 7.0, prior to the onslaught of accessible internet information, the NYT already had a paywall version in place.  However, it affected readership, and by the early 2000s, accessing articles online was free.  Now, I know there are entire sites dedicated to skirting around the 20 article/monthly limit on the site, and others which just point you to BBC and Al-Jazeera.  I just doubt the less Google-y inclined…well, let’s just say they won’t be reading Bittman anytime soon.


No, I don’t have any hard facts for you.  It’s just a guess: asking for money to read online news during a recession will lead to a decline in readership.  I’m on tumblr, I know how many of these hipsters rely on their NYT:Lifestyles newsfeed for quote posts in between some Funny or Die videos.


All I can say is that folks have strayed from the Sunday paper in bed – that’s for stable 30somethings with open-brick facade bedroom walls, and cushioned headboards.  We are not of that clan.


Paywalls are particularly heartbreaking once I see them pop up at sites I frequent.  (I remember feeling a bit forlorn when HULU decided it needed one in 2010…) Particularly around reporting, online information should be free.  The truth should be free.  The least number of obstacles should be presented toward the truth.  Hypervocal cites this entry from the Pulitzer Center blog, and poses a very good question:  ” ‘Anything that can safeguard the quality of journalism is welcome.’ But what exactly are we safeguarding?


Yeah, NYT.  Are y’all hard up and RecessionFRESH, too?


UPDATE: Some hard facts from our friends at GIGAOM.  (but don’t click around too too much.  GIGAOM has a paywall, too.)