Archives For January 2009

My wife told me about the book NOW, Discover Your Strengths* several years ago when her company was encouraging their managers to read the book and take the survey. I never got around to looking into the program until a couple of weeks ago when I picked up a copy of the book for a dollar at my local library.

What’s different about the Strengths-based model is that it focuses on improving strengths rather than trying to improve weaknesses, which seems to be way of most self-improvement literature. It’s an interesting idea.

The book came with a special code that must be used in order to take the survey. My code was already used so I picked up a copy of the follow-up book StrengthsFinder 2.0* and used its code to take the Strengths Finder survey.

The survey, which is all done online, requires you to pick from two different statements. On the left side it might say, “I like to lead people,” and on the right side it might say, “I am perfectly happy to work behind the scenes.” If one of the statements is true for you, you can select “strongly agree” for that statment. You can choose neutral if neither applies to you or you can strongly agree with either statement or you can lean more towards one statement or the other. They don’t want you to sit there and think about the statements so they only give you 20 seconds for each question. They want your gut response.

Once you have completed the survey, it will come back with your top five strengths out of the following 34 strengths:

Woo (winning others over)

I have to say, the findings for me were surprising. According to the survey, my top five “strengths” were:


The one that surprised me the most was “Empathy” which has the following description in the book:

“You can sense the emotions of those around you. You can feel what they are feeling as though their feelings are your own. Intuitively, you are able to see the world through their eyes and share their perspective. You do not necessarily agree with each person’s perspective. You do not necessarily feel pity for each person’s predicament—this would be sympathy, not Empathy. You do not necessarily condone the choices each person makes, but you do understand.”

That just doesn’t sound like me. Sure, there are times when I feel what other people are feeling, but for the most part, I don’t care what other people are feeling. Or maybe I really am Empathetic and I have just been living contrary to my belief system. Hmmm…

The other “strength” that surprised me was “Harmony.” Read their description to see what I mean:

“You look for areas of agreement. In your view there is little to be gained from conflict and friction, so you seek to hold them to a minimum. When you know that the people areound you hold differing views, you try to find the common ground. You try to steer them away from confrontation and toward harmony. In fact, harmony is one your guiding values. You can’t quite believe how much time is wasted by people trying to impose their views on others.”

This sounds nothing like me. I mean, I SHOULD be harmonious but I don’t think I am.

I’m wondering if I took the assessment wrong. The questions weren’t asked in such a way where there was a choice that stood out as being the one that “normal” people would pick, making you feel stupid if you chose the other response. It seemed like a fair assessment so the results were confusing to me.

It is a shame that they don’t make the survey available for a small fee or free. The only way the survey can be accessed is by using an access code located inside on of their books. StrengthsFinder 2.0 can be purchased from for $13.77.

Have any of you taken the survey? If so, would you share your strengths? Did you agree with the findings?

RELATED: For more information on the StrengthsFinder survey, check out these links:

StrengthsFinder Research

StrengthsFinder FAQs

This week’s Blog of the Week (I didn’t post a Blog of the Week last week) goes to Your Money Relationship.

I became aware of this blog only recently but I like what I have read so far and I think you will too.

For those of you interested in selling stuff on eBay, you’ll want to check out his eBay post.

NOTE: If you have a blog that you would like to be considered for Blog of the Week, send me an email. Please be sure to put “Blog of the Week” in the subject line. I’ll be happy to consider any nominations.

I begged Stacey (Stacey has been a reader and frequent commenter here at AFM for YEARS!) to write a guest post on how she saves money. Why Stacey? Because she’s so much better at it than I am.

Anyway, here’s Stacey’s guide to saving money. I love it.

FREE MONEY is yours for the taking! No, I’m not talking about a late-night infomercial about buying real estate or claiming unclaimed property. Actually, getting free money is as easy as: 1) utilizing manufacturers’ coupons, 2) using on-line discount codes, 3) shopping through a link, such as or Discover Card’s “Shop Discover” and 4) mailing in rebates. Today I’m going to discuss my strategies for using coupons. If JLP will have me back, I’ll discuss #2-4 in a future article!

I’ve been cutting coupons since I was eight. To me it was a goldmine for the family’s benefit, far exceeding the allowance I was earning at the time. And since I helped my mom grocery shop, I got an extra rush from seeing them GET USED! That, obviously, is the key. So here are my couponing tips from my (gulp!) 36 years’ of experience:

First, always buy a Sunday paper because that’s where all the coupon supplements appear. If you know it’s an extra good week (say lots of diaper coupons or a Proctor & Gamble circular) buy more than one paper. (Full disclosure: I own P&G stock.) Your savings will exceed the cost of the extra paper. Ask your non-couponing friends and family to save the coupon papers for you.

Second, if short on time, have your children help cut. (They practice using scissors, you save time. They learn about saving money, you actually do.) To start, cut coupons only for the products you buy. I typically cut more, because often a deal appears that after utilizing a rebate will make me get “paid” for the item. Then at Christmas I donate it to a food bank/shelter, etc. I win. They win.

Third, as JLP knows from his years in the grocery business, items are cyclically on sale. During Lent, tuna and tomato soup are discounted. Learn the grocery cycles and you can stock your pantry at the lower prices. Coupled with your coupons, your savings can be immense. If you’re lucky enough to have a store that doubles manufacturer coupons, you can really maximize your savings.

Fourth, some experts recommend maintaining a price book. You track the price (and date) of items you normally purchase so that you get a feel for when something is truly a good deal and to start recognizing the pattern of the sales-cycles. I’ve never done this as I have a pretty good memory and recognize when an item is priced well.

Fifth, coupons are also found on-line at or thru manufacturers’ websites, such as Homemade Simple, (Proctor & Gambles’ website), or Right at Home, which is SC Johnson’s product website, or even on grocery-store shelves in red, automated machines. You can also use your computer’s search engine to find them by typing in “manufacturer’s coupon” and the product’s name.

Sixth, you have to be organized to get the maximum benefit from using coupons. Don’t let the “O” word scare you clutter-hounds out there. Here’s what I do: when cutting the coupons, I stack them in categories such as:

• paper goods
• pet food
• beauty products
• medicines
• cleaning supplies
• canned goods
• soup
• pasta & rice
• breakfast
• frozen foods
• desserts, etc.

To use them, you have to be able to FIND them! To keep this under control, I use those tabbed, accordion-like clutch organizers. Some folks use a plastic recipe box. The key is to have them easy to grab, and all in one place. Here’s the most important tip: DO NOT LEAVE THIS CONTAINER AT HOME! I have my coupons in my vehicle so they’re always with me. Do I sometimes go into the store, only to realize I don’t have the coupons I meant to bring? Of course! Rather than driving back home, I just walk back to my car and retrieve them.

Lastly, when making your grocery list, use the store’s sales flyer so you can pull your coupons in the comfort of your home. Then just staple them to your list and you’ll be whizzing down the aisles at record speed, saving money along the way!

Stick with the above steps and you’ll easily save $20-$30 a month as a beginner. In 2008 my annual savings totaled $880. Some avid “couponers” save more, but I only put 10-15 minutes into this a week, so for me it’s the right balance. Happy Couponing!

JLP’s Thoughts: I think Stacey should come back and write some more. What do you think?

NOTE: AllFinancialMatters currently has an advertising relationship with Visa.

Financially, one of the most significant events that helped my wife and me to get on track occured the day we got our Visa Check Card. Previously, we had used credit cards for expenses and I stupidly allowed myself to charge more than I should have and was almost always shocked when the bill came in the following month and it was more than I could pay. Yes, it was stupid. It was really stupid considering that we were making decent money at the time.

When we got our Wells Fargo Visa Check Card everything changed. Why? Because we HAD to practice self-control in our spending since our card was tied directly to our bank account and every time we used the card, the purchase was almost immediately taken out of our checking account. There was no more room for error and there also credit card backstop. This was a good thing.

That said, there are some things to think about when using a debit card. Visa sent me the following list of debit card tips (I included my thoughts on some of the tips). Most of these you probably alread know:

• Know your current account balance. Don’t forget about checks that have not yet cleared your account. This was much harder to do in the days before online banking! Also, it’s a good idea to keep a cushion in your account just in case you make a mistake.

• Record your transactions in your check register as soon as possible. Remember to include any financial institution fees that may apply. Store your receipts safely in one place in case you need them later. I NEVER do this!

• Review your statements carefully. If you suspect a mistake, call your financial institution immediately. And always follow up with a confirmation letter. This is a good idea. Remember the bank can’t do anything about it if they aren’t aware of the problem.

• If your card is lost or stolen, contact your financial institution immediately. This reduces your liability if fraud losses occur. Duh!

• Choose a unique PIN. Avoid obvious choices such as your address, phone number, or birth date.

• Keep your PIN private. Memorize it. Don’t write it down or write it on your card, and never tell it to anyone. It’s funny that they should even have to mention this.

Finally, one tip they didn’t mention but I will add:

• If you know you are going to be purchasing something big, be sure and call your bank to see if you can get a spending limit increase. I have had problems with this in the past but a call to the bank usually cleared it up quickly.

I’ve Got Nothing to Say…

January 21, 2009


I know there are lots of things to write about but for the life of me I can’t think of anything at the present moment.

Any suggestions?…

Hard to believe it’s Tuesday already. The three-day weekend threw me off. I completely forgot about updating the Blog of the Week. Oops. Anyway, here is this week’s Ten for Tuesday. Enjoy. There are some good articles and posts here.

1. Let’s start off with 10 Financial Commandments for Your 20s.

2. The FinanceBuff reports that deferred interest payment plans have been banned. I have used these types of financing plans in the past and have never had a problem.

3. How to work full time while you’re in college. Been there…done that! NOT FUN!

4. How Ramit is going to save $25,000 in 2009.

5. 15 uses for coffee filters. In my house, coffee filters have ONE purpose…coffee making!

6. Larry Winget can fix America!

7. Brian Tracy’s Planning Your Year – Part 1. – It’s a little on the “salesy” side but the advice is still good.

8. Scott Burns on Bernard Madoff.

9. Flexo asked his readers: Should investors who profited from the Madoff scheme return their money? I have read that they have no choice due to some aspect of the law that says a person can’t profit from fraud (or something like that).

10. Foreclosures are high on Obama’s list. Throwing money we don’t have at a problem we can’t solve. Let ’em fail.

NOTE: if you’re a blogger and have a blog post you would like me to consider for inclusion in a Ten For Tuesday, send me an email (JLP – at – and I’ll see about including it (no promises). Be sure to put Ten For Tuesday in the subject line of your email (it helps me keep track of my emails).

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The winner of the “Little Gold Book” giveaway was commenter #10, JMS. Congrats to JMS.

There will be more giveaways to come.

Stay tuned…