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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.

15 Minutes Could Save You 15% or more…

Written by Tony Marrone

On your next cell phone, cable, internet or home phone bill.

Like any good frugal law student, I’ve been crunching the prospective numbers for 2008 and determined that I pay far too much for all of the above services. In light of the upcoming wedding and our desire to be in a new house before graduation next year, it seemed that it was time to dust off the old negotiating tactics and take to the phones.

Cut Back on Your Cable/Internet/Home Phone Costs
First up on the list was good ‘ole Time Warner. The media conglomerate has been charging a monthly fee which hovers dangerously close to fraud-like levels. After haggling with the representative and vowing to switch my cable/internet/home phone service to a DirectTV/Verizon Fios combination, I finally was rewarded by having my monthly bill reduced 27% and only giving up four HD channels we never watch.

Streamline your Cell Phone Bill
After conquering Time Warner, I moved on to Verizon in an effort to lower our wireless bill. I chose to take a non-confrontational approach with the Verizon representative. After a brief review of the usage numbers, we were able to reduce our monthly cell phone bill by approximately 22%. However, when I asked if she could throw in some free text-messages for the next couple of months, the representative admitted that if I had called and threatened to cancel my service, she could have done this no problem. Who says it pays to be kind?

Eliminate Pesky Old Accounts via Technicality
Finally, I was prepared to begin what I felt would surely be a battle to cancel two old Sprint PCS lines that have been hanging around. BFP posted today about cashing in on a great offer usually only distributed to Sprint employees. Unfortunately, the great offer is not available to existing Sprint customers, and the two lines remaining of what used to be my family plan are not eligible for conversion to the cheap SERO plan.

However, there is a loophole for all of you wanting to get out of your Sprint contracts without paying the hefty $200 early termination fee. Sprint sent a letter to its current customers about fee changes effective January 1, 2008. What Sprint does not disclose in the letter is that the cancellation of the Federal E911 fee of 40 cents per line and the Federal Local Number Pool and Portability fee of 15 cents per line and the addition of the two new fees actually results in a “net increase in fees”. Technically under most contracts, the net increase in fees creates a loophole which allows you to cancel your contract and forces Sprint to waive the Early Termination Fee.

After I went back-and-forth with the representative, she agreed I was right, and could get out of the two-line account and save the $400 in Early Termination Fees, but would have to call back when I received the bill in order for her to apply the credit. I made sure to get the representative’s identification number before I hung up.

All told, with a little bit of time on your hands and the willingness to have customer service representatives try to convince you why only Time Warner can deliver you the best in high-speed internet or ESPN HD service, you can successfully trim your cable/internet/phone budget by at least 20%. That’s not bad for just 15 minutes…

20/20 Special “Flat Broke: Begging and Borrowing in America”

Written by The Frugal Law Student

Today at 9PM CT, 20/20 will be doing a special on the topic of debt in America. Should be an interesting show.