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Recommendations

Charities
charity: water
This is a great organization that is working to bring safe water to everyone on earth. Water is the best starting point for fixing a variety of problems in the word because when people have clean, safe water, a lot of other issues disappear.
I really like the concept they came up with of donating your birthday. I also like that 100% of your donation goes toward the cause.

QuestBridge
This organization helps kids of various backgrounds from all over the country get into top universities, often with full scholarships, by creating a single application that is universally accepted. Beyond helping kids realize the opportunities that are out there, I love the efficiency of the universal application.

KCRW
I think KCRW is the greatest radio station on earth. They have the perfect mix of talk and music and minimal advertising. The pledge drives are brutal, but even that was recently streamlined.


Financial Products
Credit Cards
We are just starting to try to really maximize our credit card rewards, so I will give details on that later, but prior to that we used a pretty simple system with two credit cards.
The card we use for most purchases is the Citi Double Cash card. It basically earns 2% cash back on all purchases, which is pretty darn good.
The only purchases we use a different card for are gas and groceries. That's because the American Express Blue Cash Preferred card earns 6% cash back on groceries (up to $6,000 of spending) and 3% cash back on gas. Six percent back is amazing, and I like that we don't have to deal with annoying rotating categories. It's also very handy that grocery stores sell gift cards for just about everything, which lets us get 6% cash back on most of our major purchases. Annoyingly, it has a $95 annual fee (recently increased from $75), but it is worth it if you max out the grocery rewards.
AmEx has a referral program for this card, so contact me if you would like a referral and we can both earn a little bonus.

Banking
We use Chase for pretty much all of our banking needs. We know they are a big, soulless, evil corporation, but it is so handy having branches everywhere. Just make sure you avoid all their random fees, which is relatively easy.

Investing
All of our non-401(k) investing is done on E*Trade. I started using them a long time ago when Washington Mutual/Chase started charging me for trades and have never seen any reason to switch. I'm a big fan of their 2000+ no load, no transaction fee mutual funds, which are sufficient for all of my investment needs.

I strongly encourage you to manage your own finances and invest in low-cost, broad index funds, but if you aren't interested in doing it yourself, I recommend you try one of the new "robo-investors" like Betterment (affiliate link). They can save you a ton of money in fees over traditional financial advisers who may not have your best interest at heart and they will do fancy things like "tax loss harvesting" to reduce your taxes.

Financial Tracking
I was lucky to grow up in a financially savvy (and maybe a little OCD) household and was using Microsoft Money to track my finances for as long as I can remember. When that product was discontinued I eventually switched to Quicken and have been using it ever since. It has a couple quirks, but overall, it's great software. The best part is that it can automatically download your transactions from just about any account you can imagine. I'm running the Home & Business version, but there are cheaper options that will work for most.

If you don't want to buy software, there are a couple quality online alternatives that happen to be FREE.
I recently signed up with Personal Capital (affiliate link) and it is pretty cool. It is quick and easy to use but offers some pretty in-depth analysis of your finances.
I also gave Mint.com a try and it works well, but is a little basic for my tastes.

Tax Preparation
I use TurboTax and have never had a problem. It makes doing your taxes fast and easy, and I've seen multiple people get much bigger refunds when they used it to double check their paper returns.
I usually pay the extra $20 to e-file the state return even though I could potentially file for free through the state website. I tried that once and the savings weren't worth the trouble.
If you taxes are fairly simple, you can file your federal return online for free by clicking here (affiliate link).


Services
Cell Phone
We were on AT&T for years but recently switched to Cricket (now owned by AT&T). The service is pretty much identical to AT&T, with the same coverage, but we are saving a ton of money every month. We are on a family plan with five phones and we pay $100 per month, total. That's $20 per month for each phone and 4 GB of data per line. It's a great deal.
I've noticed a lot of blogs recommending Republic Wireless, but their plans are significantly more expensive than what we pay Cricket and I don't think their network is as robust as Cricket/AT&T's. Republic does, however, have a generous affiliate program, which may be swaying many of these bloggers.
Cricket also has a referral program, but I truly believe it is the best service out there, so contact me if you would like a referral and we can both earn a little something.

Insurance
All of our insurance is through State Farm. Last time I checked their rates were competitive after our multi-policy discount was factored in, and our agent is a family friend.

Rooftop Solar
We recently got solar panels on our house and had a good experience with the installer, LA Solar Group. They offered the right combination of being big and reputable enough that I felt they would be around long enough to honor their warranty, but small enough to be willing to customize the system to my exact desires (something SolarCity won't do).
LA Solar Group does have a referral program, so let me know if you're interested in a referral and I will kick back a portion of the referral payment to you.

Lodging
I really hate paying for hotels, especially when all I plan to do is sleep in the room. AirBnB is an awesome alternative that usually costs less and offers a whole lot more options than any hotel. There are a ton of unique properties on the site that can help you have an amazing travel experience.


Physical Products
We aren't big on spending money on things, but when we do, we like to get a quality product. Below are some products we have used and think are worth your hard earned money. We have not been paid to recommend these products, nor did we receive anything for free, but if you use the links to Amazon on this page, we will get a small commission.

Household
Pencil
My favorite pencil is the rOtring Rapid Pro. I'm a sucker for 0.5 mm and this pencil is made of solid metal so it has some heft to it. The knurled grip makes sure you can confidently hold onto it even if your hand gets sweaty, and best of all, it has a retracting tip. I kept dropping my old pencil and bending the tip, causing poor functionality. It also comes in a very nice looking black, but I got the brighter color because I thought it would be easier to find if I drop it somewhere dark, like under a car seat. Buy Price:  $30

Pen
I'm sure the pen version of the Rapid Pro is great, but the pen I've been using for many years is a chrome Cross Classic Century. The pen I use was actually my dad's, so it has sentimental value. I like that this pen is heavy, yet has a small diameter. The one I have actually has a better grip area than what seems to be available today, which is odd. I'm also bummed the chrome is starting to wear off, revealing the brownish brass(?) beneath. One of these days I may just make some stainless steel pens and pencils that will last forever. Buy Price:  $16


I got tired of my coffee and tea getting cold super quickly, so I decided to buy a vacuum insulated mug. I've heard great things about the Yeti Rambler, but the price is outrageous (although they seem to have come down since I last looked at them), so I got this knockoff from THE BOSS. It has been a game-changer. It keeps drinks hot or cold for hours, doesn't need a coaster since no condensation forms on it, and it holds a satisfying 30 ounces (a 20 ounce version is also available). The only downsides are the relatively massive size and that you can't put it in the microwave. Buy price:  $20

We also bought some stainless steel straws to use with this mug. They are nice and avoid creating plastic waste. Buy Price:  $10

Universal Remote
I'm sure most of us have way too many remotes floating around the living room. The Logitech Harmony 350 is the solution. It is their simplest model, but it does everything most people will need. Even the initial setup is easy using the Harmony computer program. The fancier ones have screens on them, but all those do is kill the battery life. Our first set of batteries lasted over a year. Buy Price:  $35

eBook
I fought getting an ebook because I have lots of paper books I haven't even read yet, but we received a Kindle Paperwhite as a gift. I have to be honest; it is pretty great. It's so much nicer to hold than a regular book because you don't have to use two hands to keep it open. It has definitely increased my reading. It's also nice because you can download many books for free, legally or otherwise. Buy Price:  $100

A necessary accessory for the Kindle is a case. We got this one, which is much cheaper than Amazon's official case, and it works great. The prices seem to change on these things pretty frequently, so pay attention. Buy Price:  $10

Deodorant
I've heard most deodorants have a bunch of nasty chemicals in them, so we've made a point to use products that are as non-toxic as possible. We first tried Tom's, but found it to be ineffective. We eventually found Arm & Hammer Essentials, Fresh scent, and we love it. It's effective, appropriate for men and women, and is mostly natural. There may be a couple questionable ingredients, but it's the best we have found. Buy Price:  $18 (for six)

More to come.



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