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After going to American Express and Bretton Woods to get Euros, I called Wilshire Coin to see what their rate was and found that not only were they the BEST exchange rate I found in Los Angeles, but their service was excellent, and they were in Santa Monica, not downtown!

They have TWO parking spots in front of their location, but plenty of metered parking. The entry is so secure that you must allow a the first door to close before opening the other. Getting my Euros for the best rate in less than 5 minutes in multiple denominations made the pain of paying 36% more for 1 Euro priceless!

Note that they are open some Saturdays but you will pay more if you go on a week-end since markets are closed.

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I love Charles; no, not Charles Jourdan or Charles David, although I do love what they both do with shoes. The Charles I love is Charles Schwab, and not because of the brokerage services, although those are nice too, but because of the BANK.

I have written about this wonderful bank before in a previous post, but today they impressed me so much I had to write an updated rave about their services. Not only does their high yield investor checking account come with no monthly fees while offering free checks, free bill pay, high interest, and no fee ATM transactions (including foreign ATM transactions) with no minimum balance or direct deposit requirement, but they also do NOT charge a foreign transaction fee on international transactions! And to top off those wonderful services, I found out today, when I called them to tell them I am leaving for a trip to the UK and Greece, they have toll free in country numbers overseas! So if I need to call them in case of an emergency (like having my check card stolen) I don’t have to dial collect from overseas, I can call a local toll free number in the countries I am going to be traveling to, just like a local! Their security is also very commendable because they wanted the exact dates and locations of my travel so that anything outside those dates or areas would be flagged for fraud.

I also love it that every time I have ever called this bank, pleasant American voice answers the phone without a written script or a fake American name. Outsourcing may be good for some things, but I like keeping my money with a bank who keeps the source of customer service at home where the money is. There are few things more frustrating than repeating my name four times, my account number three times, and then needing to talk to a manager to get information on a questionable transaction because my question is not covered in a written script.

The best companies keep customer service as their priority and I love it when a BANK does that, especially since it is keeping my money; as I said, “I love Charles”!

Now that it’s time for school again, it’s also time to figure out how much college will cost. Too bad there isn’t a high school course on how to calculate and pay for higher education. Two of my friends are sending their kids off this year and looking at both their empty nests and their empty checking accounts, trying to figure out where to go from here. Good thing that there are several websites designed to help you navigate the financial and academic roads.

Collegeboard has tools, calculators, and resources for students, parents, and educators. They even have links to registering for the SATs on their home page. If you want to research colleges, they have information on more than 3800 and you can search by major, by location, or cost. I like how the site has everything from planning to go to college, to the logistics of applying, to the options for financial aid, all in one place.

For those who want to put away money for college (meaning you child is not enrolled this year), check out collegesavings, which has information on the 529 plans for every state.

For those who want some help with financial options Finaid is the place to go; they have everything from how to apply for scholarships, grants, how to get loans, how much to save, and even military aid options. There is a handy calculator to help you figure out actual costs with interest right on the homepage.

With the government handing out money to so many, why not get in line for a student loan? Studentloans has all the information on federal student aid and it has the application (free) on the website. These loans are usually based on income with lower interest than other loans, so apply for a federal loan first to avoid paying more later.

An education is always a wise investment; investing in yourself or your children can yield some amazing returns.

>My friends Shelly and Paul are getting married in a few months and they registered with Honey Fund to literally fund their honey moon to Tahiti. It’s a great free way to register for gifts or money for a wedding.

Using the Honey Fund makes it more personal than simply sending the couple a check or some cash because each item or excursion they would like is itemized; a romantic dinner, a boat trip to another island, scooter rentals, a show, even the plane tickets, are all listed as gift items. The fund even makes it possible to buy just a portion of a big ticket item (like the plane fare), so you can contribute as little or as much as you would like without paying for the entire item. At “checkout” you can either pay through Paypal or print out a gift receipt and enclose your check or cash with the receipt showing what you have bought the couple.

Of course the Honey Fund also allows the usual gift registry at brand name stores like Crate and Barrel where tangible items are listed and you can buy them (and have them shipped) for the couple. But as my friends said in their announcement, there isn’t much they need now or can fit into their small place, so helping them fund their Honeymoon would be much more practical (and fun).

Having been to Bora Bora alone, I know it is much better to travel there as a couple, and it’s even better to travel there on a honeymoon with all expenses paid.

My friends Shelly and Paul are getting married in a few months and they registered with Honey Fund to literally fund their honey moon to Tahiti. It’s a great free way to register for gifts or money for a wedding.

Using the Honey Fund makes it more personal than simply sending the couple a check or some cash because each item or excursion they would like is itemized; a romantic dinner, a boat trip to another island, scooter rentals, a show, even the plane tickets, are all listed as gift items. The fund even makes it possible to buy just a portion of a big ticket item (like the plane fare), so you can contribute as little or as much as you would like without paying for the entire item. At “checkout” you can either pay through Paypal or print out a gift receipt and enclose your check or cash with the receipt showing what you have bought the couple.

Of course the Honey Fund also allows the usual gift registry at brand name stores like Crate and Barrel where tangible items are listed and you can buy them (and have them shipped) for the couple. But as my friends said in their announcement, there isn’t much they need now or can fit into their small place, so helping them fund their Honeymoon would be much more practical (and fun).

Having been to Bora Bora alone, I know it is much better to travel there as a couple, and it’s even better to travel there on a honeymoon with all expenses paid.

Most of us learn about money from our experiences, good or bad, and we take our lessons with us to the next test of what to do when we make or get more money. Without a strategy or an understanding of how to use our money to work for us we are left making poor choices that may well end with us in the poorhouse.

Education is the key to nearly every success in life, and that includes money. The more that you learn about money, the better your decisions. As with any other education, the earlier you start, the better, so why not take advantage of the free lessons available from Schwab Money Wise? They are appropriate for every child old enough to count, to teenagers getting their first job and saving for a car, and on to college students figuring out how to budget their expenses away from home for the first time. They even have a section for teachers to give them ideas of how to introduce lessons in money for their students. It’s a great resource for new investors who want to know what a mutual fund is, how to calculate the cost of a loan, a home, or a saving account with compounded interest. If you don’t know where to start your money education, this is a good place to start.

If you know something about money but want to learn more about business and are planning to apply to a business school, then check out Veritas Prep to help you prepare for the GMAT admissions test. Of all the test preparation services, Veritas offers 50% more class time than their competitors for the price ($1500 for 42 hours), and instructors who are so highly qualified that they only pick one of every eight candidates who apply to be instructors. They are working on developing both law school and medical school online admissions courses; and Veritas realizes that their services are expensive, so they give away 24 full scholarships and 25 half scholarships to those who can not afford the fees.

Education being a good value is a no brainer.

>Most of us learn about money from our experiences, good or bad, and we take our lessons with us to the next test of what to do when we make or get more money. Without a strategy or an understanding of how to use our money to work for us we are left making poor choices that may well end with us in the poorhouse.

Education is the key to nearly every success in life, and that includes money. The more that you learn about money, the better your decisions. As with any other education, the earlier you start, the better, so why not take advantage of the free lessons available from Schwab Money Wise? They are appropriate for every child old enough to count, to teenagers getting their first job and saving for a car, and on to college students figuring out how to budget their expenses away from home for the first time. They even have a section for teachers to give them ideas of how to introduce lessons in money for their students. It’s a great resource for new investors who want to know what a mutual fund is, how to calculate the cost of a loan, a home, or a saving account with compounded interest. If you don’t know where to start your money education, this is a good place to start.

If you know something about money but want to learn more about business and are planning to apply to a business school, then check out Veritas Prep to help you prepare for the GMAT admissions test. Of all the test preparation services, Veritas offers 50% more class time than their competitors for the price ($1500 for 42 hours), and instructors who are so highly qualified that they only pick one of every eight candidates who apply to be instructors. They are working on developing both law school and medical school online admissions courses; and Veritas realizes that their services are expensive, so they give away 24 full scholarships and 25 half scholarships to those who can not afford the fees.

Education being a good value is a no brainer.

After a financially tumultuous 2008, we are all looking forward to a smoother (and less nerve racking) 2009. But since most of us are not financial experts, and even some of our financial experts lost their nerve and money last year, where do we go for some solace and a solution?

Suze Orman is giving everyone an action plan for 2009, and best of all she is giving it away FREE until January 15, 2009. Simply go to Oprah’s website for a free download of her book, Suze Orman’s 2009 Action Plan. Her simple outline explains both how we got here and where to go from here.

I downloaded the book last week and read it before posting this, so I can honestly say that no matter how savvy you are, this book has something in it for everyone. For those who understand what happened and what to do next with their money, this is a small reminder to keep you on track on all fronts; for those who are lost, confused, and scared, this book is the calm voice of reason reminding us to focus on our goals, and gives specific action steps to help reach those goals.

Life is change, and knowing that you can affect the direction of your finances no matter what changes occur, is both powerful and comforting. Thanks Suze.

>After a financially tumultuous 2008, we are all looking forward to a smoother (and less nerve racking) 2009. But since most of us are not financial experts, and even some of our financial experts lost their nerve and money last year, where do we go for some solace and a solution?

Suze Orman is giving everyone an action plan for 2009, and best of all she is giving it away FREE until January 15, 2009. Simply go to Oprah’s website for a free download of her book, Suze Orman’s 2009 Action Plan. Her simple outline explains both how we got here and where to go from here.

I downloaded the book last week and read it before posting this, so I can honestly say that no matter how savvy you are, this book has something in it for everyone. For those who understand what happened and what to do next with their money, this is a small reminder to keep you on track on all fronts; for those who are lost, confused, and scared, this book is the calm voice of reason reminding us to focus on our goals, and gives specific action steps to help reach those goals.

Life is change, and knowing that you can affect the direction of your finances no matter what changes occur, is both powerful and comforting. Thanks Suze.

It is nice to find freebies in times when airlines are charging for checked bags and restaurants are charging for delivery. But there are services which are truly free, with no obligation to prepay and get reimbursed, or worse yet, sign up and require a cancellation to stop lifelong charges to an account (as anyone who has ever signed up for a gym membership already knows). Finding the truly free services requires some work, but isn’t that why you read my blog?

For free credit reports that don’t require you to put in a credit card number and then cancel, go to this consumer site set up by the government to provide data from all three major agencies; the only restriction is that you can only do it once a year and they charge to give you a FICO score. The reports are very helpful in determining whether or not you want to get more information or update ancient history (one of my reports had me still living with my ex-husband whom I divorced over ten years ago!).

Suze Orman is famous as the financial guru who had invaluable advice in these uncertain times. She is an avid supporter of same sex marriages (as am I), so she has made her Will & Trust kit FREE to the LGBT friendly readers of The Advocate. All you do is click into either the Advocate site or her own site and choose the Will & Trust kit, then enter in the promo code ADVOCATE under the orange promo/gift code. You fill out the forms online, then take them to a notary public or witnesses to complete the process. All for free because Suze believes same sex couples should have the the same protections as different sex couples. Hooray to Suze for putting her money literally where her beliefs lie!

It is always a bonus to get free WiFi service, expecially when you are traveling or waiting in public places like airports, so the service at WiFi Free Spot helps you find the free spots around town, from local businesses to public places (like parks and libraries). They also have a great information page which explains (and warns) about usage of passwords in ANY public place, so feel free to surf the net, but don’t do your banking in the park or airport. The same rules apply online or offline; don’t share any personal financial or private information in anyplace where strangers may overhear (or oversee) you.

Always use your common sense for any service you use, whether it is free or paid, so DO NOT check your credit report or fill out your will at a free hotspot; freebies are good, but like chemicals, it is not always a good idea to combine them!

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