Saturday, June 24, 2006

This Weekend's News

From the Saturday and Sunday NY Times:

Buy a House for $3,000?
If you want to live in Canton, Ohio, you might be able to get a real bargain... real estate investors are taking advantage (they hope) of declining property prices to snap up Victorian homes for as little as $3,000. In another deal described in the article, an investor bought a house for $24,000, is spending $20,000 on renovations, and hopes to sell it for around $70,000.
The homes are so cheap because Canton has lost almost a third of its population since 1950, in part due to the closing of the nearby Hoover vacuum headquarters. I visited a bookstore in Canton several years ago, and remember the owner having this air of defeat as her once-thriving downtown store lost more and more business-- and that was before Hoover moved out. I don't know if that store is even in business anymore. It was a concrete example for me of the consequences of the decline in heartland manufacturing employment, and it was sad.

How to Get the Best Currency Exchange Rates
This is one I should really know more about already-- I do so much travelling, for business and pleasure, and every time I make an international trip, I mean to jot down the various exchange rates at various stages of the trip:
-- getting foreign currency in advance at my local bank
-- going to a kiosk in the airport before departure
-- the various kiosks in the airport I arrive in: before customs, near baggage claim, out in the terminal...
-- at ATM machines in the city I'm visiting
-- at a hotel (ok, everyone knows this is the worst possible option)

That is all for cash-- I try to use credit cards as much as possible, but sometimes I've stayed in places where even the hotel bill had to be paid in cash, so you can't get around using it. But I've never figured out how to really get the best deal. According to this article, the best rates are usually for ATM withdrawals after you've arrived, and some banks, such as Bank of America and Citibank, may waive fees for withdrawals at foreign banks they are affiliated with. I am always a bit nervous showing up in a country without any local currency at all, especially if my flight gets in late, so for countries that I know I'll go back to, I just keep whatever leftover currency I have when I'm leaving, rather than changing it back to US dollars, since I know I'll be able to use it the next time. (And that is a fun project in Quicken-- tracking the changing value of all my assorted foreign currency!)
Credit cards ususally have the best exchange rates, but on top of that, they usually have surcharges that can hike up the actual cost. The article recommends American Express and Juniper Bank as having low fees for processing international transactions, and Capital One has no additional surcharge at all.

Tips for Balancing Your Checkbook
Boy, some people really get stressed about this! Harder than calculus?? I don't think so. I remember when I used to do it by hand, and yes, it would drive me crazy if it was off by any amount and once or twice I probably had to just give up and just hope the bank was right. But ah, Quicken. Now it's just click click click, maybe adjust a transaction here or there, and voila, it's done, balanced. And Quicken even says "congratulations!"


Anonymous said...

Doesn't your credit card company charge a fee for the exchange? At least mine did it recently when I registered a conference using CND over the net...

Kira said...

Canton is actually a nice little town if you don't have to work there. The problem that I see with a lot of these articles saying how cheap housing is in this or that area is that you can't possibly work there and make any money. So it's basically only good for retirees. I wouldn't mind retiring to Canton though. I think the hot spot was Binghamton NY a few years ago, where you could get a nice house for $29k.