Ka-Blog! is on the move

Posted on July 31st, 2009 – 5:19 PM
By Kara McGuire

The Star Tribune is in the process of migrating all blogs to another blog platform and spiffing up their design.

The gray Kara is even going away and being replaced with a color Kara!

If you have the blog on an RSS feed, you’ll need to update the link once the migration is complete. Find the new and improved design at www.startribune.com/kablog.

You’ll also need to be a registered member of the Star Tribune site to comment. I hope you’ll jump through this hoop to keep the conversation going.

Thanks for your patience while the new, improved Ka-Blog! is in motion.

Cash for Clunker confusion

Posted on July 31st, 2009 – 11:37 AM
By Kara McGuire

Well, as you probably have heard by now, Cash for Clunkers needs a visit to the body shop. Lots of dents in the program. Here’s the story my colleague Abby Simons put together last night.

Apparently, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said this morning that the program will continue through the weekend. President Obama is expected to speak on the economy at 12:15 central time. I’m curious to see if he addresses CARS.

Maybe I’m glad I didn’t qualify after all. I wouldn’t want to set foot inside a dealer right now with all of the hub bub.

But I’m a reporter and I’m about to head to a dealership to assess the scene so you don’t have to. Oh the sacrifice! :)

Check back to learn if the possibility of new money caused a new flood of people into the dealerships or a flood of angry participants waiting for approval. Or maybe all I’ll see are bleary-eyed employees who’ve spent hours inputting data for the program while tearing their hair out. We’ll see…

Update: The scene at Inver Grove Heights’ auto dealers varied from dealership to dealership. Some were full of customers who rushed in to take advantage of the program before the rumored cut-off. Other showrooms were slow, as if confused car-buyers seeking clarity were staying away.

The assignment did give me the opportunity to peek inside of a Ford Flex. The verdict? I think I’ve been converted to the totally unsexy, totally uncool but oh-so-practical and comfy minivan. Sliding doors rock!

Cash for Clunker envy

Posted on July 28th, 2009 – 11:30 AM
By Kara McGuire

I recently wrote a column about how my husband’s 1992 Toyota Camry is on its last legs. The photo posted with the story cracks me up because the shot was intended to show how the key is stuck in the ignition. But instead it just highlights how we’re total slobs. Thank god you can’t whiff the indescribable-but-I’ll-try motor oil/grease/hot Goldfish crackers smell too!

To recap. The car has a lot of problems, but it still runs. And it does not qualify for Cash for Clunkers. And its trade-in or charitable value is laughable.

I thought writing the column would help me to retire the household topic of whether we should buy a car now (answer: No) .  But all of this cash for clunker talk makes me envious.

Part of me wants to join the new car party. I know it’s expensive. I know my car can run longer. I know I can buy used. But buying a new car would help the economy. There are good deals out there. And frankly, we can afford it if we want to, Cash for Clunkers or not. It’s all a matter of priorities.

Our 2003 Ford Windstar with 93,000 miles on it does qualify for the program. The $3,500 government dough plus a $1,500 cash rebate and a discount I get because my father used to work for Ford would equal a pretty good deal on the Ford Flex, the grocery getter I think we’d buy to haul around the three kids and the pop-up camper. I’m all for fuel efficiency, but  you try fitting three car seats in a Focus.

So I played around on the Ford web site and got a quote. Picked up the phone to call Mr. Kablog. His response? “$20,000 is $20,000.”

How true.

Yes, it’s a good time to buy a car. But cars are expensive, even if you qualify for the rebates and incentives.

In the next weeks as Cash for Clunkers is in the news, I’ll try to think of Jason each time I have the urge to head to the dealer’s lot. He sent me the following email:

My clunker is a 1999 Grand Caravan. It has 140,000 miles on it. The value is $2,000 because it is in poor condition – lots of body rust. The Caravan is list at 18 MPG so I would qualify for the $4,500 cash for clunkers incentive.

Originally I wanted use the cash for clunkers to get a small high MPG car. However after much consideration I decided not to.

The Caravan should last another two years (another 15,000 to 20,000 miles). Based on the current economic situation and uncertain job market I decided to wait until the car dies and tow it to the junk yard.

Readers, any of you planning on taking advantage of CARS? If so, what made you pull the trigger? Any trouble finding a vehicle?

If you are considering a new car, check out this tip sheet from Americans Well-Informed on Auto Retailing Economics.

I’ll keep you posted on my car-waffling. As you know, it’s often the behavioral/psychological aspects of finance that trip us up. And my heart might just overrule my head on this one.

No-tweet vacation?

Posted on July 10th, 2009 – 4:03 PM
By Kara McGuire

Three months on maternity leave. Two weeks in the office. Then two weeks vacation. Now that’s what I call a civilized work schedule!

The family is heading on a two-week camping trip with our shared new/used pop-up camper.  We’ll spend a couple hundred bucks on gas and a couple hundred more on camp sites, with plenty of money left over for beer, cheese and brats.

To make this a true vacation, I don’t think I’ll tweet every penny I spend. Then again, it might be a fun way for me to say hello from the road. I’ll decide in the next couple of days.

Until then, wish me luck packing and I’ll be back to Ka-blogging on Monday, July 27.

Free financial advice from fee-only planners.

Posted on July 8th, 2009 – 3:44 PM
By Kara McGuire

This just in: The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (aka NAPFA) is starting a year-long series of free webinars for consumers.

The hour-long programs cover everything from investing to insurance to kids and money.

The first one, held Aug. 7th, is “Money 101: Knowing the Basics.”

“We want attendees to take something away from the sessions that helps them tackle these issues at home. As an industry we have done a poor job of helping consumers increase their financial knowledge,” NAPFA National Chair Diahann W. Lassus, CFP®, CPA/PFS, said.

I agree. I also think the industry does a lousy job reaching lower and middle-class families. These webinars, which will be archived if you can’t listen live, are a start.

I’m sure the series is also designed to improve public relations. Can anyone say Bernie Madoff? Three former NAPFA members have also been nailed by the SEC for various wrongdoings such as accepting kickbacks for putting clients in inappropriate investments. Lassus wrote in a letter responding to the incidents that he feared that the organization was “lulled into complacency” over the years. I’m guessing the leaders did their due diligence when selecting the webinar presenters.