i The Frugal Law Student | 2008 | January

Law School
Personal Finance

What’s Your Setup?

Written by Tony Marrone

I’m in the process of reviewing both OmniOutliner and the newly-released OmniFocus as they apply to both law students and people interested in Getting Things Done (GTD).

Until then, let’s talk about your particular law school or other software setup that you couldn’t live without. Also, if there’s a program out there you’ve been dying to seen reviewed, let me know (if it runs on Mac) and we’ll try to put together a review for that as well.

Mac on A Budget

Written by Tony Marrone

Well thanks to our friends over at Engadget, we now know what Steve Jobs is unleashing at the Macworld 2008 conference this morning. The new MacBook Air, the thinnest laptop on the market, will be pretty pricey, but it sure seems attractive to law students who carry dozens of pounds of books around with them daily.

Last semester I made the switch over from my bulky Gateway to the black MacBook. It’s true that the MacBook put a major dent in my pocketbook, but it also greatly increased my daily productivity, enabling me to get more done faster. Thanks to great tools like OmniOutliner, OmniFocus, Quicksilver and the ease with which my Mail, Address Book and iCal work with all these programs makes the MacBook “hands-down” the best purchase I’ve ever made.

If you read Mac Law Student (if not you definitely should; here’s the link)you’d know that Macs happen to function a lot like law students’ brains. They have the ability to accomplish multiple tasks at once, storing information in a meaningful and easy to recall way with the overall goal of retaining tons of information for yesterday, tomorrow and into the future.

I do have some tips though for getting yourself into a Mac, even when you’re on a budge

1. Never Purchase New
Generally computers are a lot like cars. They’re not going to go up in value once you’ve taken them out of the box, in fact, computers tend to depreciate much faster than cars simply because the technology is updated more frequently. With this in mind, you should always strive to purchase last season’s technology. So, if you’re in the market for a MacBook now, wait until MacBook Air saturates the market, and then try to purchase a regular MacBook from someone who upgraded to Air.

2. Troll E-Bay
Buying a computer online can be intimidating, you just need to ask plenty of questions, and make sure you’re bidding on a trusted seller. A good rule of thumb I use is to bid and sell using Pay-Pal only, because then you have another level of built-in corporate policies protecting you. In fact, I’m using Ebay now to sell my 16GB iPod Touch (I like the new iPod nano version better; see link here).

3. Call Your Local Apple Store and Ask If They Sell Refurbished
Local Apple Stores will many times have refurbished Macs in stock, or old floor models that they pull off the floor but are available for purchase. It’s best to call your local store or show up and ask them what their particular store’s refurbished options are.

4. Constantly Monitor Mac’s Online Refurbished Sections
Apple will sell their own refurbished products to you here. Most other online retailers also sell refurbished Macs, but I’d stay safe and purchase directly from Apple.

5. When All Else Fails, Finance Your New Mac
I hate to recommend this, but if you can’t find what you want used, and are extremely picky, you can purchase new (and finance through Apple’s Juniper Bank Visa Card–with a huge and unattractive APR). I would almost never recommend this, unless it is your only option to put yourself into a Mac and you are truly in dire straits. My position is that being “backwards” into a Mac by financing it on a credit card is still marginally better than owning and using a PC as your primary computer (sorry for offending PC users–I still have two PCs in my home).

Get Your Starbucks Fix On…

Written by Tony Marrone

Starbucks is in trouble. You probably don’t realize they’re in trouble because every morning when you go in there the line raps around the inside of the store and you pay $4.79 for a small latte. However, based upon several factors, including increased frugality by Americans (yay!) and an influx of market competition from big names like McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks near global domination is retreating just a few steps.

I try to avoid Starbucks, but I walk by and its hissing espresso machines beckon me. As a Starbucks shopper, I’ve been generally happy, although several things have bothered me about the store, the beverages and the way the business is run.

Ed at Serious Eats has some great recommendations for revitalizing the Starbucks machine. I have a couple of my own, and invite you to share your suggestions in the Comments. After we put together a list of about 100 comments, I’m going to send them to Starbucks and see if we can’t get the readers some free Starbucks gear (Please leave original comments and e-mail me your comments as well, so I can keep in touch with any potential Starbucks response).

1. Turn on the Heat
For stores in the Northeast, the combination of the large windows and poor building insulation makes for a chilly place to study. Starbucks should take a page out of Panera’s book and consider installing electric fireplaces, or changing the heating scheme of their outfits.

2. Include Nutrition Information
I’m on a diet for the upcoming wedding, and as much as I love a Pumpkin Spice Latte I only know how bad it is for me because I researched online. They should provide a pamphlet with nutritional information for all their drinks.

3. Enough With the T-Mobile Hotspot
This is 2008, you need to offer free wi-fi like most other coffee shops.

4. Ditch the Sandwiches and Most of the Unhealthy Snacks
For such a globally and environmentally-conscious company, Starbucks has no problem helping people destroy their bodies. I know they’re delicious, but do you know how many calories are in that cookie you just got with your Chai? Starbucks would be better served offering fresh, healthy snacks and some soups then dishing out the gross breakfast sandwiches and tremendously good, yet tremendously bad-for-you snacks.

5. Lower the Music Volume
I know it serves as dissonance to prevent you from hearing nearby conversations, but the music should not also prevent you from thinking. I’d also like Starbucks to have some bands come and play (softly!) in the evenings and perhaps on weekends.

Let me know what else you think would help resurrect Starbucks.

Personal Finance Tips For Newlyweds

Written by Brett McKay


When a couple gets married, they’re not only joining lives, they’re joining bank accounts. Each person brings to the relationship different attitudes and ideas about money. One of the key’s to a happy and successful marriage is to get on the same page with your spouse about finances.

Here are 5 things that a couple thinking about getting married should consider before getting hitched.

1. Review your credit history and debt together

Before you get married, sit down and look over each others’ credit report. One person’s bad credit score, is bad for the couple. You don’t want to find out when you apply for a loan that your lovely husband racked up thousands of dollars in credit card debt to pay for a video game habit while in college. By then it’s too late. Finding out each others’ credit score before you apply for a loan can help you decide whether to leave the person with the crappy score off the loan application so you can get a good rate. If you don’t do this, you’ll end up like this guy:

The guy is kind of a douchebag when he says he wouldn’t have married his wife if he knew her credit report. But the commercial gets across the point that it’s important to know each others credit report before getting married. It will help you make decisions when taking out a loan.

2. Discuss financial goals

Find out each others’ financial goals and attitudes about money. Is your wife a spendthrift or a frugal monger? Does your husband want save for a down payment on a house or does he want to be a renter? You can preempt money tension down the road by getting your goals and attitudes out in the open from the very beginning of your marriage. If one of you likes to spend and the other likes to save, your marriage isn’t doomed, you’ll just have to come to a compromise. Make this compromise at the beginning of your marriage.

3. Decide whether to have joint or separate accounts

The choice to have joint or separate accounts is entirely up to your personal preference. Each has their benefits and drawbacks. It also doesn’t have to be either/or. Many couples have a joint account for home expenses and maintain separate accounts for personal ones.

If you do decide to open up a joint account, make sure you both are aware of how much is in the account. You don’t want to have pay unnecessary overdraft charges.

4. Draft a budget together

Budgets aren’t sexy. It’s tedious and boring. Creating a budget with someone else makes it even harder because each of you have different priorities on spending money. While you might want to allocate more money for entertainment, she might want more money for personal care products.

But creating a budget together is vital. It will help bring your spending habits more in-line with each other. It also makes BOTH of your aware of what’s going on in your finances instead of just one person being in the know.

What do you all think? Any other tips that you’d give newlweds? Drop a line in the comment box and add to the conversation!

Image by Allele

Everything I Need to Know About Personal Finance I Learned From Carlton Banks

Written by Tony Marrone

If there is anything that insomnia and not finishing your reading until 1:00 a.m. teaches you, it’s that The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reruns constitute the best programming on TV. Period. Fading off to sleep last night, I heard Carlton lecturing Will on the merits of opening some kind of investing account with a sum of money Will had stumbled into. Carlton’s rant piqued my interest because I finally realized that wrapped up in all the nerdiness and awful Tom Jones impersonations, were several lessons about managing your personal finances.

1. Your Education Is Invaluable

Carlton reminds me of myself at a young age. Always focused on where he would go to college, and being successful in life, that he very often missed out on being a kid. That’s alright though because Carlton transferred into Princeton (in real life you can’t do that) and probably went on to become a successful lawyer just like the Big Guy.

2. You Are Never Too Young to Plan Ahead

This ties in with Carlton’s educational planning, but relates solely to finances. While his big sister Hilary was out spending the family fortune, Carlton was investing his graduation money in his Roth IRA. Carlton frequently lectured his family members on the merits of financial investing and saving, and is a voice for frugality in a household that spends lavishly and foolishly (i.e. Geoffrey the Butler).

3. It’s Cool To Be A Nerd

Carlton’s nerdiness paid long-term dividends. Even though most boys probably idolized Will for his arrogance and outgoing personality, Carlton benefited largely by just being a juxtaposition to Will. Where Will could impress people with his good-nature, Carlton could impress them with his knowledge and sizable bank account. Carlton made it cool to read the Business section of the Times on Sunday mornings. He showed us it’s ok not to listen to Jazzy Jeff, but to jam out to Tom Jones.

4. Gambling Is Dangerous

Carlton had a highly-publicized affinity towards gambling. Every time he and Will were near a casino Carlton would forget everything he usually preached, and blow all his money at the tables. For such a cautious guy, this weakness can only be seen to point out the hubris that sometimes accompanies such frugality. Lesson: there’s a little bit of Carlton in all of us.

5. It Is Nice to Be Born Rich

Carlton arguably had it easier then many of us, and it is harder to respect someone who ascends from family wealth. However, Carlton continued to persevere in spite of his family money, unlike Hilary, and always seemed like he wanted to accomplish more than his parents.

6. It Is Nicer to Want to Become Rich on Your Own

Tying in with the previous point, it is clear to me now that Carlton’s ambition is what makes him so likable. There was never any incentive for Carlton to push himself to achieve great things, and in fact, it always seemed that the Big Guy appreciated Carlton’s accomplishments less than he did for all the other kids. Carlton still pushed himself to achieve, and that should be the greater message we glean from his goofy dances and incessant ramblings about personal finance.

It’s helpful before the semester starts to put things in proper perspective and maintain a sense of humor both about law school and about life. As we begin to get caught up in the everyday monotony of class and work, think about Carlton Banks and the lessons he taught us all during the formative years of our youth.

Free Groceries (or, A Step in the Right Direction)

Written by Tony Marrone

I spend huge amounts of money at the grocery store. Whether I am purchasing fresh foods to prepare meals for my wife-to-be, or just stocking up on study food, a large portion of my monthly budget is dedicated to grocery shopping.

With that said, I think it is important to be as frugal as possible at the grocery store. Anyone who shops regularly can see that most prices are rising ($5.79 for a gallon of milk at Wegman’s today) and not likely to come down anytime soon. This is an even bigger problem if you are trying to lose weight and eat healthy, as low-fat and fresh foods are always more expensive than their junk food and frozen alternatives. However, I recently stumbled upon a great tool (thanks to BeingFrugal) that has already provided me with huge savings on my grocery bills, The Grocery Game.

How Can I Save 50% On My Grocery Bill

The premise of The Grocery Game is simple. Simply enter your zip code and the website will list grocery/drug stores in your areas that participate in the game. Then you must retrieve the store’s advertisement and manufacturer’s coupons from your newspaper each week. From there The Grocery Game can be neatly tailored to fit your personal shopping needs. The premise behind the game is that stores run specials or sales on a 12-week cycle, and that if you have someone cataloging all of the coupons for the past three months and providing you with that information, you can retrieve the coupons and save a bundle.

How Does It Work?

After you have signed up for your four-week free trial, you simply start reviewing the online list of sales and bargains from each store of your choosing, and then clip your coupons and start saving! You will start to save instantly, but you really will not see your savings reach its peak for about three months. The Grocery Game combines manufacturer’s coupons with store sales and other store rebates to provide you with a final cost for items on each store’s sale list which you can review, edit and print out to bring with you shopping.

Is It Worth It?

That depends on how much you expect to spend and save. If you don’t spend much on groceries, then you’re probably better served investing your time elsewhere. However, if you find yourself spending a lot of money on fresh food, personal care and other items, The Grocery Game might be right for you. Also, The Grocery Game will teach you how to stock up on items when the sale prices are really low, so that you won’t have to purchase the items when the price goes up again.

If you want to give The Grocery Game a try, make sure to use my e-mail address when you are asked who referred you (amarrone@gmail.com) and don’t hesitate to ask any questions in the comments.