Archive for June, 2007

Engagement ring shopping? An Excel model for pricing an Asscher cut diamond

Excel spreadsheets (.xls), Personal finance

A while back, I mentioned that some of the people I worked with had mad excel skills, and some people wrote in wanting to see examples. I finally found something I could post here that doesn’t violate any NDAs or contain sensitive company information: a teammate’s personal Asscher cut diamond pricing model (right click to download and open or save). [Updated June 28, 2007: unlocked version of spreadsheet now available.]

I realize this is a bit out of left field, so here’s a little background. Someone recently joined our group who’d built an Excel-based model to price out how much an should cost, based on several factors. He did this so that he could get the right engagement ring for his fiancĂ©e, where “right” was defined as the biggest bang for the buck (though I have to say it’s a gorgeous ring, and I’m no diamond afficionado). After putting the model to good use, he posted publicly on a diamond forum, and I got his permission to post it here as well.

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Book review: The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich

Business & entrepreneurship, Career

Much ado has already been made about The 4-Hour Workweek, including a few reviews by other personal finance bloggers, like Ramit’s over at I Will Teach You To Be Rich. Like Ramit, I had the opportunity to listen and meet Tim Ferriss in person (it’s just one of those perks of living close to Silicon Valley), and I found his presentation interesting enough to pick up his book a few weeks ago.

Overall, I’d say the book is about three things: developing discipline, being decisive, and making some attitude changes. Discipline comes in the form of not allowing yourself to sink time into useless time eaters (like checking email all the time, watching TV, any of the other millions of things we do to put off acting on our dreams), and being decisive means not wallowing in self pity if you dislike your job and doing something about it. Attitude changes include questioning assumptions we’ve all grown accustomed to by working in corporate America, as well as using Pareto analysis to focus on the few percentage of activities that give us the most benefit or bang for the buck.

I found myself being pretty inspired by Tim’s book. At various points in my life, I’ve experienced doing some of the things Tim mentions and can confirm that he’s 100% correct on these points. For example, I’ve taken “mini-retirements” (though I admit I could have spent them doing more exciting things than he’s done), I’ve successfully asked for a paid leave from work, negotiated cutting back on hours to go to school, and even volunteered multiple times in places where I had no access to a TV for weeks at a stretch (ahh, how different life was and how much unexpected peace I felt when I had no distractions and noise around me).

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Keepin’ it real: real estate funds again, this time international

Mutual funds

This week’s Barrons has an article about investing in global real estate () in which five mutual funds were suggested:

Kensington International Real Estate
Alpine International Real Estate
Cohen & Steers International Realty A
ING Global Real Estate A
Northern Global Real Estate Index

I’ve been interested in learning more about real estate funds and REITs ever since I made my some months ago and then after receiving advice from readers and realizing I was buying something I really didn’t understand. One reader more knowledgable than I recommended looking internationally instead.

The funny thing is that of the 5 mutual funds listed in the article, only three are really available to me as an individual investor. KIRAX is open to institutional investors only (and its sister funds KIRBX and KIRCX are available for redemptions only), as is IGLAX, and none of our 401(k) plans list these as an option. NGREX carries a transaction fee at Schwab. It’s also worth noting that many of these carry up to a 4.5-5.75% front load fee depending on your broker.

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More fun with credit cards

Personal finance

I used to think those automated calls from Citibank’s early fraud-detection department were nothing but annoyances. Inevitably, my hubby would be traveling overseas, or in another part of the country, and charges to our credit card would be false positives that set off their alarms, forcing me to call back to verify all his charges.

Last month, though, I received one of those calls, and when I called Citibank back expecting to verify all the charges (coincidentally enough, my husband was traveling at the time), it turned out that their detection system had actually detected something right for once. Someone had managed to get our CC number and had started using it to charge and get authorization for all sorts of miscellaneous services, like signing up for a messaging service in Australia, opening up accounts with UPS and FedEx, an auto transport service, and some other random things.

We still have no idea how they got the number, but my guess is that it must have been from an order we placed on the internet. Yes, I know dumpster diving is the #1 place for getting CC numbers, but we shred all receipts and bills, and the guy (or gal) managed to get our address and a phone number that was close enough in appearance to the one associated with the account that I’m pretty convinced all this information must have come from an order we placed somewhere.

The good news is that the damage has been minimal: most charges didn’t go through thanks to the early fraud-detection service, I cancelled the card immediately, and we signed up for to monitor any suspicious activity, which thankfully hasn’t happened yet.

Here are some interesting (or random) tidbits I learned from the experience:

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