I've done it. There's no turning back. I'm now on Twitter. Yep, that's me: @ElisabethLeamy. I had resisted for so long because I couldn't figure out why people would want to update other people minute-by-minute on their lives. I burned my toast this morning. Do you care? But then I realized I had been looking at the whole thing the wrong way! Twitter is useful not for you to hear from me, but for ME to hear from YOU!
Yes, I now send out daily tweets on saving money and avoiding scams, but the real value is the dialogue I can now easily have with viewers and readers. Already, several people have written to me with consumer questions and I've been able to write back almost immediately. How hard can it be when it's only 140 characters? Here are some of the good questions I've received, plus the answers I tweeted back. I promise not to turn this column into re-hash of my tweets, but I'm so tickled at the chance to interact with you all that I thought I'd highlight the conversation just this once. I've also elaborated a bit beyond the 40-character limit, since I can blab all I want here in this space!
Questions and Answers:
Q: Planning my 2012 personal budget. Rent expense now makes me think about the opportunity/cost of going on a vacation.
A: Try negotiating a lower rent. It often works! Then use the savings to pay for your vacation.
Q: Gearing up for a 6 month savings diet with a couple of my followers. Any savings advice?
A: Do I have savings advice? A whole book full! My philosophy is to focus on BIG stuff not lattes. I like to focus on strategies that will net me at least a thousand dollar in savings at a time. How is that possible? If you figure out where you spend big you can save big. And I'll tell you right now, the five things Americans spend the most on are houses, cars, credit (yes, the interest on loan is an expense), groceries and healthcare.
Q: In 1977 in Michigan I opened a savings account. Cant remember bank name. Shortly after, I closed it but left $ in the account A few years ago I remembered this and tried to do some research on the account, but was not successful since I had no info.
A: Just go to www.Unclaimed.org (NOT dot COM) and click on Michigan on the map. Look up your name and use your old Michigan address to verify it's your listing. Banks and other financial institutions are required to turn over unclaimed money to the states or safekeeping. The number of years varies before money is considered unclaimed. The great thing is that using Unclaimed.org, you are linked directly to each state's search site and the only information you need is your name and past addresses. Most states allow you to apply for the money right online! You could receive a check in as little as a couple of weeks.
Q: I've got several questions on the basics of home buying. Everybody is saying to do it, but what is the proper way to do it?
A: Save enough to put 20% down and then buy a house with the same monthly mortgage payment as your monthly rent payment. That way, you know you can afford it. Most mortgage bankers use vague formulas to determine what you can afford. 30 percent of your income, that sort of thing. I don't believe in that. As long as you can comfortably afford your rent, buying a house with the same monthly payment is ideal. Curious how much home you can afford with 20 percent down and mortgage equal to your rent? I developed my very own calculator that shows you just that.
My Pro Savings and Anti-Scam Advice
Savvy Consumer Tip: Before doing business with a new company, always search their name and the word "complaint" online. Lots of complaints? Run!
Save BIG Tip: A house is the one investment you can make with money you have to spend anyway: your rent. You get a nest AND a nest egg! You can't sleep in a stock. Bonds don't keep the snow off your back. Start planning and saving for a house now.
Those are just a few examples of the lively dialogue I'm enjoying on Twitter. You can follow me at @ElisabethLeamy. And, more importantly, I can follow YOU and you'll keep me in touch with what consumers really want to know.