How to replace six vital documents

Could you produce your birth certificate, car title, or an old tax return at a moment's notice?

You're supposed to store vital documents in a fireproof box or keep them in a safe-deposit box, but how many of us actually do that? We may not need these papers often, but when we do need them, we really need them. You need vital documents to sell your car, travel overseas, apply for a job, get through an audit, refinance your house, and more.

The good news is that if you've lost important pieces of paper, you can replace them — and it might be easier than you think. Here's how to replace six of the most important documents in your life. Continue reading...

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How to safeguard your social security number

In articles about how to prevent identity theft, I've often read that one should never give out his or her social security number (SSN) unless absolutely necessary. That sounds like good common sense. But I recently found myself asking, in what situations is it actually necessary?

I've mentioned that my husband and I own land on which we are starting to build a home. The land is owner-financed, and we've had a great relationship with the sellers (who are also our future neighbors) for the past three years. Last week I received a message that they needed our SSNs. The full story wasn't clear, but it seemed they had a new CPA who said she needed our numbers to complete their taxes. This immediately set off red flags for me. This isn't to say I distrust the sellers. They are a lovely retired couple — the kind of people that invite you in for coffee when you drop off the monthly payment. But I didn't know this CPA, why she needed our SSNs when they've never been needed before, and what precautions she would take to safeguard them. So I decided to dig a little deeper. Do you have to provide your SSN because it's requested, and if not, how do you know which situations are optional?

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If you’re going to buy a warranty, shop around

I'm writing this post on my brand new MacBook, which I just purchased yesterday. I can honestly say I've never been less excited to buy a computer.

The reason for my ambivalence is that I already bought this laptop four months ago, replacing a seven-year-old "little iBook that could." But two weeks ago a water bottle (that I thought was closed) toppled over, splashing water on the MacBook. At first, it seemed like I was in the clear. All systems were go. Later that day, however, the MacBook started randomly "typing" characters on its own, and after two failed reboots, it died. Rest in peace, MacBook. You were too young.

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The get rich slowly philosophy

There's been an influx of new readers at Get Rich Slowly lately. To serve as an intro the new folks (and to celebrate the site's fourth anniversary, and in honor of Financial Literacy Month), today I'm going to review my financial philosophy. Although we covered each of these points in turn last autumn, it's been a while since I collected these core values in one location.

Based on my research — and my experience with what does and doesn't work — I've compiled a list of fourteen guidelines that form the basis of everything I write. Some of these tenets draw on age-old wisdom: "Saving must be a priority" is just the ancient truth that you've got to "pay yourself first", for example. But other rules — such as "do what works for you" — I came up with based on my own struggles.

Here, then, are the fourteen tenets of the Get Rich Slowly philosophy:

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Action beats inaction

This article is the 13th of a 14-part series that explores the core tenets of Get Rich Slowly.

Five years ago, I was a different man. I had no savings, retirement or otherwise. I was literally living paycheck-to-paycheck on $42,000 a year. (Meaning: I had between $0 and $20 every time I got paid.) I was over $35,000 in debt. I had a job I hated because it had no meaning in my life. I spent my free time watching TV and playing computer games — especially World of Warcraft.

I didn't like my life, but I did nothing to change it. Continue reading...

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Suze Orman jumps aboard the “pay with cash” bandwagon

For years now, Dave Ramsey has recommended ditching credit cards and paying with cash. (Specifically, Ramsey advocates the use of an envelope budgeting system.) In fact, this anti-credit card stance is one of the biggest problems critics have with his philosophy; they often point out that "responsible" credit card use would yield a higher credit score.

But it looks like Dave Ramsey has some new company in the Cash Only camp. According to a recent MSN Smart Spending article, money guru Suze Orman is the latest proponent of paying for purchases with cash:

On her Saturday night show on CNBC, she asked viewers to join her in a Back to Cash movement. "Let's go back to the good old days," she said. "Let's go back to the times when you literally paid cash for everything. That's right. Cash. Stop using your credit cards altogether."

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Net worth: The most important number in personal finance?

Do you know your net worth?

Your net worth is a snapshot of your financial life at one moment in time, a single number representing your financial health. It's the total of everything you've earned and spent until today. In The Wall Street Journal Complete Personal Finance Guidebook, Jeff Opdyke writes:

Knowing your net worth is important...if only for one reason: It forces you to interact with your financial life, keeping you in touch with your money and knowledgeable about where you are on the road to where you think you're going.

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Using an allowance to teach kids about money

This is a guest post from Nickel, who writes about personal finance at Five Cent Nickel. Since that and his four kids don't keep him busy enough, he's launched another site more narrowly focused on credit card offers.

Though small was your allowance, you saved a little store; and those who save a little shall get a plenty more. — William Makepeace Thackeray

Just over three years ago, we decided to start paying our kids an allowance. While the decision whether to implement an allowance is highly personal, I thought I'd pull together some thoughts on the subject for those of you with kids of your own. Continue reading...

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Best personal finance podcasts

A photo illustration of headphones and a laptop for post on best personal finance podcasts

Podcasts are a great and free way to learn about saving and investing. Here are some of the very best personal finance podcasts we feel are worthy of your "must-listen" line-up:

Planet Money

Planet Money is perhaps the best all-around podcast about money and economics out there right now. The production values are extremely high -- as you'd expect from any NPR show -- but it stands out for its ability to explain the most complex economic issues in straightforward and innovative ways. Their most famous episode, "Giant Pool of Money" with This American Life, remains one of the best pieces of explanatory journalism on the housing crisis in any medium. If you still aren't certain what caused the housing crisis of 2008 and the global money panic that followed definitely give this episode a listen.

Bad With Money

If you don't know a stock from a bond or an IRA from the IRS, you may want to check out Bad With Money with YouTube comedian and former BuzzFeed writer Gaby Dunn. While primarily geared toward millennials, this podcast is a sonic kick-in-the-pants for anyone who needs to get a handle on their money management (or lack thereof.) One of the better episodes allowed listeners to come along as Gaby unloaded all her financial baggage to a financial psychologist. Yes, your parents' attitudes about money are likely affecting you today. This is not the place for advice on sophisticated financial instruments or advanced savings and investing -- by any means -- but Gaby's voice is fresh and the tone 100 percent non-judgmental.

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How to inoculate your children against advertising

I have a confession to make: I like commercials. Even though they can be boring, insulting, and just plain bothersome, on some level they intrigue me. I often wonder why certain ads fail miserably while others succeed in catapulting a brand to the forefront of store shelves. I like commercials because I enjoy guessing which will sink the product and which marketing genius will get a promotion. But what I hadn't considered until I had children was how much power commercials seem to have over us.

Out of the Mouth of Babes

What changed my perception was a routine shopping trip a few years ago with my then four-year-old boys. As I paused my shopping cart in front of the cleaning supplies, Andy said, "Mom, aren't we going to buy some Clorox?" I stared in surprise at my child because, although he was pointing straight at the Clorox, I knew he wasn't able to read.

I puzzled over the bleach incident for some time because not only were the boys unable to read, but I didn't generally buy bleach. Eventually, my husband and I realized that commercials were to blame. While I had been dismissing commercial-watching as a mildly amusing pastime, marketers were subtly invading my home and impressing their values on my captivated and trusting children.

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