Good personal finance spreadsheets are hard to find on the web because sploggers monopolize the search results. Still, I've managed to collect links to a stack of them that I'd like to share.

Spreadsheets more useful than web-based calculators because:

• You can modify the fields and formats to meet your own needs,
• You can create "what-if" scenarios by making copies of a sheet, and
• You can save the data for later use.

The following links are all real sites from real people with real useful information to share.

## How compound returns favor the young

In an earlier entry about the cost of waiting one year to begin investing for retirement, I posted a chart from AllFinancialMatters that demonstrated the power of compound returns. Vintek posted a math exercise related to the subject.

I got this from a book called The Random Walk Guide to Investing by Burton Malkiel. It's a book I recommend, and I'll eventually talk about it in the forum. Here's the exercise:

William and James are twin brothers who are 65 years old. 45 years ago (at the end of the year when he reached 20), William started an IRA and put \$2K in the account at the end of each year. After 20 years of contributions, William stopped making new deposits but left the accumulated contributions in the IRA fund. The fund produced returns of 10% per year tax-free. James started his own IRA when he reached the age of 40 (just after William quit) and contributed \$2K per year for 25 years, making his last contribution today. James invested 25% more money in total than William. James also earned 10% on his investments tax-free. What are the values of William's and James's IRA funds today?

## How many credit cards should you carry?

An AskMetafilter user wonders: How many credit cards do typical people have?

For various reasons I have four credit cards. I always thought of this as too many, but haven't cancelled mine since the crappiest one is also the oldest, and has no fee, and I want to maintain the age of the card on my credit report. Most people I know have one or two cards. But reading online forums on credit, I see plenty of people with more than four. How many is normal? How many do you have?

According to How Many Credit Cards is Too Many? at MoneyCentral, "most Americans carry between five and ten credit cards". According to Steve Bucci at bankrate.com:

Every year I try to review the steps in Your Money or Your Life to see how we're doing. It's been about two years since my last review, but much to my delight, I found we are following most of the steps well, and I just needed to update some numbers.

## Step 1: Making Peace With The Past

The book was written before the Social Security Administration started sending out statements. If you have earned income all your life through regular jobs, this is extremely handy. I needed the numbers from my last review in 2004, Social Security statements, and our last tax return. The combined number for me and the Spousal Unit: \$865,872.

So what do we have to show for all that moolah? Often, this is a depressing part of the assessment. Until recently, I came up in the negative, which is fairly common. For the last review, my net worth was a whopping \$2,869. So. Add up assets: I include anything in the house that I could sell for cash, all bank accounts, current market value on the house, investments, etc. \$316,183. Now for liabilities: the balance on the house, any other loans or credit card balances, and a tax debt from being a goob last year: \$231,690. Net worth: \$84,473. Hey! That's not entirely bad. I can tell you this: most of that increase is because we stopped throwing money away on rent and bought a house.

## Start Late, Finish Rich

Just finished David Bach's Start Late, Finish Rich. At 42, I thought it would be a good intro to Bach's many treatises on personal finance. I'll come right out and say I highly recommend this book. It was full of great information, and took an optimistic, yet realistic tone. I'll try to touch on some key points.

Yes, because you started late, you are going to have to work twice as hard to put away some cash for later, but there are ways to make it less painful. Look at your every day expenditures. Is there something simple you can do without? He calls this the "Latte Factor", because so many of us spend a few bucks a day on fancy coffee. My personal Latte Factor is buying lunch and snacks, instead of bringing them from home. I can spend up to \$12 a day on soda, breakfast, lunch, etc. I've cut that down to once or twice a week, and it's making a big difference. Not to mention the fact that my own meals are more healthy and delicious than anything I can buy.

Credit cards: it's the interest. Bach gives instructions on how you can call your credit card company and get them to lower yours, or how to transfer your balance to a card with a no-interest introductory offer, and make a big dent in the debt before fees and interest kick in. That last idea is a particular winner. Imagine you have \$3000 credit card debt, at 18% interest. Your minimum payment is \$50/month (always pay more than the minimum! But for this exercise, we'll stick to it). At the end of the year, your debt is \$2940. Yes, you've just been paying interest. On the other hand, if you transfer to a card that offers no interest for a year (and don't forget to cancel that first card!), and make those same \$50, at the end of the year your debt is reduced by an additional \$540. Maybe it's time to take a closer look at those ubiquitous credit card offers.

## Why I love community college

Community colleges are an oft-overlooked resource for cheap education. They offer classes from trained professionals and provide access to expensive equipment that you otherwise would never be able to use. I love community college for several of reasons:

• Affordability — Community college classes are affordable. Despite recent tuition increases, a class at Portland Community College costs about \$200. Community education courses (non-credit classes) cost even less. Some employers will pay for classes; my business will pay for one class per employee per term. If your employer doesn't have a similar policy, ask!
• Facilities — Community colleges have facilities and practical training unavailable at most universities. My local community college has a wood shop, an automotive shop, and quality darkrooms. Many students take classes simply for access to the facilities. A typical woodworking class is self-directed — you decide what your project is, and then have open access to expensive equipment and an instructor willing to help you use it.
• Instructors — Community college classes are generally taught by real professionals from the field. When I learned computer programming, my classes were taught by instructors who wrote code every day for actual employers. (One of my instructors also taught at Portland State University — she taught the exact same courses at Portland Community College for a quarter the cost.) When I take photography classes, I'm being taught by active professional photographers. One of my writing instructors was Craig Lesley, a prominent Northwest author.
• Networking — Community college classes allow you to network with instructors and students, making valuable contacts in your hobby or profession. I took photography classes at the community college for a couple of years, and the contacts I made in these classes continue to benefit me: I can e-mail my former instructors with questions and ideas; I trade photography equipment with other students; I get to watch as certain students make the leap from amateur to professional. I'm currently in a writers group with a former instructor. Some students land jobs through the contacts they make in class.
• Convenience — Community colleges are aware that they serve a large population of students seeking continuing education. They try to make their classes as convenient as possible. I've taken night classes in computer science, writing, photography, algebra, Spanish, and business management. I've taken weekend classes in application design. I've taken late-afternoon classes in assembly language programming. Community colleges make it easy to get additional education.
• Education — Most importantly, community colleges act as a safety net for those who need an education. Some kids aren't ready for high school. Others aren't ready for college. Community colleges are there to help those who have realized the value of an education and are looking to correct mistakes they've made in the past. Even adults in mid-career can use community college courses to change their focus. After eighteen months of community college computer programming courses, I landed a job hacking C++ for an environmental engineer.

When I was in high school, I made fun of the local community college. You'd never catch me going to such a place. No, instead I went to a fancy private institution where yearly tuition cost as much as a nice car. And while I was earning my degree from this fancy private institution (which I love, by the way — don't get me wrong), I made fun of the local community college. That was a place for losers. I'm older now, and wiser.

Over the past fifteen years I've attended a score of community college courses. Only one (small business management) has been a dud. Oftentimes on AskMetafilter, a user will post a question like "How can I improve my photography skills?" or "I want to get better at programming for cheap" or "What's a good way to learn woodworking?" My answer is always: sign up for a class at the community college.