Ohto Petit-B

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I usually carry a bunch of pens in a leather pocket protector (a beautiful, inexpensive thing from John C. Robert’s Leather Works). My wife despairs when we go someplace nice and I’m carrying all this stuff. So I wanted a small pen that would fit unobtrusively in my pocket. The previously reviewed Derringer Pen is just a little too long for my wallet.

This Ohto pen, just a bit smaller, is ideal. It’s only 3.1 inches closed, 5.1 inches open, and fits perfectly in the fold of my wallet.

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-- David Derbes  

Ohto Petit-B Needle Point Ballpoint Pen
$9
$1 for refill

Available from JetPens

Manufactured by Ohto



HP 10B Business Calculator

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HP’s mid-range business calculator has been around for more than 25 years, and it is still the best choice for all but the hardest-core finance, statistical and actuarial uses. For everyday use by business managers doing profit margin, sell/cost, IRR, percentage, mortgage, cash-flow, discount, net present value and so many other common business computations, it offers incredible ease without requiring the user to learn the RPN notation of HP’s higher-end financial calculators.

Everything about the 10B shows an incredible level of attention to design, from the solid rubber feet, perfect tactile keypress response, and easy-to-read, molded-in key labels. And amazingly, my 10B, purchased in 1989, is still going strong on its factory-supplied button batteries, after some 20 years of dependable and regular use.

Loan amortization calculations, even with a computer, can be tedious, but the 10B’s dedicated functions, for all the usual as well as the out-of-the-ordinary loan computations, make such work quick and reliable. As with all functions on the 10B, I simply input the known values using their dedicated keys (for example, number of months, interest rate per year, and loan amount), and then press the key for the unknown value (monthly payment). Change any of the values, and the 10B can re-compute all the remaining figures just as easily.

HP has updated the 10B now to the 10BII, though user reviews on Amazon are not very positive. If you can find a used model on Amazon or eBay, it’s probably the last calculator any businessperson will ever need to buy.

-- Mike Sullivan  

HP 10B Financial Calculator
$45

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Hewlett-Packard



Storus Smart Money Clip

I’ve been using Storus’ simple wallet/money clip for four years now, and highly recommend it. It’s just enough wallet to qualify as one, but no more: light, simple, minimalist. The money clip is great, and the other side can hold five credit cards. The cards are wedged in there — the channel gets narrower as the card slides in. I carry my ID facing out, plus four credit cards. It’s a bit tight like that, but it works. As few as one or two cards still works fine, though, and they won’t slide out.

– Luke Kanies

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I have used the smart money clip for six years. No more wallet, just the five cards I use all the time, and a little bit of cash if someone doesn’t want to take my MasterCard. It keeps my pockets free, and I have never seen anything else like it.

– Jeremy Sluyters

 

Storus Smart Money Clip
Polished Stainless Steel
$20

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Storus



Mint

This web-based dashboard gives me an elegant overview of all my financial accounts in one screen. I’ve been using Mint for the past 6 months and it is marvelous. It is super friendly, quick, and illuminating. It makes me smart.

Mint will aggregate any money or spending account with online access — which is basically all financial accounts by now. In ten minutes or less I added our bank, credit cards, mortgage, cars, 401k, credit union, checking, and Etrade accounts to Mint. That’s the last input I ever had to do. From then on Mint automatically updates all the accounts, sucking in their data with the correct passwords, and integrates this diverse information into a single unified realtime snapshot of our finances. At once glance I can see where we are spending too much, or how we actually allot our income. I no longer have to hunt for my password and numbers for different accounts, say checking our bank balance, or a credit card purchase. It is much much easier, and far more pleasant, to simply log into Mint, where I can see everything. There, in clear presentation far superior to most banks, are all my accounts informing each other. One window to watch them all!

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Mint is a read-only interface. There is no way to move money, or reconcile accounts, or pay bills, or calculate taxes (for now). That is also why it is safe. In fact it is probably safer than most banks because fancy algorithms at Mint similar to credit card fraud detection software will alert you when your finances show an unusual pattern. This is one of its cool features. It will gently inform you (at your choice) that say, based on your past months’ expenditures, you’ve overspent your grocery budget this month. It also makes a fairly good guess at categorizing your expenses on its own. It can then make comparisons of how your budget stacks up to other aggregate users in your area, and offer budget suggestions (which we have not followed). We rarely use cash for anything so Mint gives us a very complete picture.

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Some people will not be convinced by any reasoning or proof that having a single window into your entire financial situation is safe. If you are of that type, don’t use Mint. But for the rest, who long ago realized that using credit cards online is far safer than using one in a store, Mint is a fabulous cool tool. And it is free. Available anywhere the web lives.

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There are a couple of similar sites, such as Wesabe and Geezeo, which emphasize sharing budgets, sort of like a Weight Watchers for finances, but I find their interfaces far less elegant. However this niche is evolving fast, and features expand. Mint has a good head start, a winning design (I love the pie charts!), and a sizable user base, so I think it will be around for a while. (If it did disappear, no loss because it does not store any unique data.)

-- KK  

Mint
Free



Kiva

Micofinancing is among the better ways for the haves to help the have-nots. Small loans are made to poor but ambitious workers, who expand their livelihoods with the small loan and then pay it back. Which is then lent out again. The previously recommended agencies Opportunity International, and Trickle Up are great tools for individuals in developed countries to kick-start other folk’s self-development. These agencies do the hard work of identifying and training the recipients, and tracking loans and performance.

But why not use the peer-to-peer model to allow individuals with money to loan to specific individuals in need of a small loan? That’s what Kiva does and it works wonderfully.

Kiva enables you to make small $25 or above loans to an individual or small group of individuals in a developing country. They use these small loans (aggregated to about $200-$400) to finance a food stall, repair shop, hair salon, sewing machine, new cash crop, etc. When they pay it back to you in about 11 months, you can then re-lend it to another person of your choice.

The advantages of Kiva over the other worthy agencies are three fold. One, you can direct your loans to the kind of projects or livelihood you deem the most important or the most sympathetic. Maybe you are into food so you gravitate to funding small cafes or local fruit growers. Or maybe you think women’s sewing centers are a key. Secondly you have more direct contact with the borrowers. They have names, faces, stories. Not a few Kiva lenders have met up with folks they have lent to. Thirdly, while most microfiance agencies are thrifty, Kiva is particularly thin in administration thanks to the well-designed software platform that runs this service.

The payback rate for Kiva is about 97%. That’s a better “investment” than stocks this past year! The variety of folks you can lend to is exhilarating. The karma is good. These loans make a difference. Kiva lends $1 million dollars every 10 days. It is easy to do. A few folks are already on their third cycle of re-loaning the same money they first put up three years ago.

I think the peer-to-peer lending service of Kiva is such a wonderful tool that I have started a Cool Tools Lending Team. The intention is to gather like-minded folks to make microloans to folks needing tools to start or build a livelihood. I’ve seeded the team with the first $300 of loans to three borrowers planing to use the loans for tools and I’ll add up to $1,000 of Cool Tool’s ad revenue as the team identifies borrowers hoping to secure tools. Ideally, other Cool Tool readers will join me in lending small amounts to enable others to self-develop and remake their lives. If you are interested, please join me at the Kiva Cool Tools Team.

-- KK  

Sample entrepreneur:

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My name is Khursheed Bibi. I am a fifty-year-old woman. I have lived in the city of Pakpattan, Pakistan, for 15 years. My husband, Mr. Rafiq, is a mason. I have three kids: one son and two daughters. My son runs a furniture making business. My elder daughter is in 9th standard and my younger in 8th standard. I run a decorative embroidery business. I embroider dresses and sell them in clothing markets. I charge $3 per dress. I invest my income in my daughters' education (paying school and tuition fees). I've successfully repaid two previous loans from Asasah (a microfinance institute of Pakistan). Now I am applying again for a loan to buy lumber to expand my son's furniture making business. I am the leader of a group of entrepreneurs sharing this loan.



Cash Can

The Cash Can is a small brass tube just big enough for a rolled-up bill. The tube can’t be opened unless you remove it from your key ring. It’s as easy to remove from the keyring as your keys are. It’s also unobtrusive — the whole thing is shorter than most of my keys. Even though I live in a city with an ATM on every block, I’m big on always having a spare $20 bill at hand. I’ve usually got one stashed in my car and another in my gear bag, and a third tucked into my wallet. The advantages of the Cash Can are its workmanship and stealthiness — unless they read this review, few people are going to know what’s inside the brass tube. It just looks like a key fob. Plus, if I lose my wallet, at least I’ve got the cash attached to my keys.

-- Mike Everett-Lane  

Cash Can
$30
Available from Sunshine Products



Death & Taxes Poster

I’m a chart hound. I love the way one large intelligently designed single image can open up a world. My studio walls are covered with such portals. (For previously-reviewed cool charts see the Histomap of World History and A Correlated History of Earth). Recently I’ve add to my walls the 2009 “Death & Taxes” poster. In one large sheet this chart shows how your federal (US) taxes are currently divvied up among various agencies and programs. No matter what we claim our values are, how we spend our hard earned money speaks a thousand times louder and more truthfully about our real priorities. The immensity of military spending is made plain in this chart; the paucity of science funding equally vivid. But there are lots of other surprises: The size of health related spending, and highway funding. The numerous large sums for things you’ve never heard of.

A democracy needs informed citizens. This chart can quickly educate you about your government in a new way, a way in which a long list of incomprehensible budget numbers can not. The brilliance of this chart is Tuftian way it diagrams quick sense out of the complexity of a superpower’s government and yet rewards close scrutiny.

You can scroll through this chart at close quarters via the online version, but you’ll miss the punch of the big picture. Before you vote this election, spend some time with this guide to see how our national priorities shape up.

-- KK  

Death & Taxes: 2009
24 x 36 inches
$24
Available from Wallstats

Sample Excerpts:
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Money-Band

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Instead of an uncomfortable wallet in my back pocket, I use this rubber band to carry all of my essentials — credit card, debit card, driver’s license, work ID, insurance card. I really was skeptical of spending $3 for a 5-pack* of rubber bands, but I gave it a shot. The bands are a bit shorter than the standard office variety, so you can put one around your credit cards on the narrow end without having to double it over. As is, it provides a snug fit. They’re also very tough, about as thick and robust as the kind used on lobster claws. I’ve been using my original band for the past seven months. My “wallet” can now fit easily in my front pocket at all times with no discomfort.

-- Eric Doherty  

[NOTE: The manufacturer indicated a newer version of the Money-Band is available for $3 for one single band, not a 5-pack. Additionally, the manufacturer indicated the newer vision is a bit thicker little and about 1/8-inch wider. -- SL]

Money-Band
$4 (includes shipping)
Available from Money-Band.com



ALL-ETT Billfold Wallet

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For many years I suffered with a “creeping boat” wallet, consistently growing in size from year to year. Not only can sitting on such a thick wallet be bad for your back, but it also leaves an unsightly bulge in your back pocket (not to mention stretching the pocket out, thereby increasing the chances of your wallet falling out). The All-Ett billfold, while not stylish, solves all of those problems. The wallet has two pockets — a deep one for receipts and a shallower one for bills – and a four-card slot system that holds a ton of cards without adding much bulk. Right now I keep about 20 cards (I’ve had up to 30), and it’s about a quarter inch thick, with a few bills/receipts.

With my old wallets, I used to keep out cards I didn’t use as frequently, but now I take them all with me. The wallet is made of a nylon that feels like a parachute, which helps keep its slim profile, dries quickly (unlike leather), and is breathable. I’ve had mine for about 2 years and it’s held up pretty well so far — no tears etc. The price is a little high, but comparable to most standard leather wallets I’ve seen.

It’s worth noting that some people have expressed concerns about cards falling out of the slots. It is true that the more cards you keep, the more secure the cards will be in each slot. But I’ve never had an issue with this. I find that if I open up the wallet and tip it sideways, the cards can come out, but I’ve never experienced this in real usage due to the fact I hold my wallet horizontally like you’d hold a normal wallet. If I tip it some while looking for bills, the cards still don’t fall out as the slots open towards the fold. It seems the only way to actually have them fall out is to open the wallet all the way up and then hold it vertically. Again, if you have several cards in each slot, this doesn’t happen, only when there are a few (I’ve tried it with two in a slot and they slipped out). That said, if I were to be storing only a very few number of cards, I’d store them in just two of the slots, ensuring a more snug fit. Nevertheless, this wallet is intended for those of use who like to carry more than a few.

-- Brian Houle  

ALL-ETT Billfold Wallet
$20

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by ALL-ETT Billfold



Micro-Loans Online

This year the father of micro-finance and founder of the Grameen Bank won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work in inventing and promoting micro-loans in the developing world. A micro-loan is as little as a few hundred dollars invested into a one-person business with minimal qualifications. That tiny borrowed amount can launch a vegetable stand, repair shop, or bicycle taxi — a living in other words. As each micro-loan is repaid (and most are), the effects of that small goodness are amplified and leveraged by being loaned out and invested again and again. Micro-loans are the world’s only perpetual motion machines.

Previously I’ve recommended the micro-finance cool tools of Trickle Up, Opportunity International, and my favorite, Heifer International, as three ways to leverage small amounts of money for maximum global good. (Micro-finance programs are not a panacea. For a critique start with this article in Forbes.)

The news now is that it is there are many other outfits that offer individuals (like us) ways to leverage as little as fifty dollars via micro-finance programs online. Unleashing compounding good is only a few clicks away. Make a loan, or outright grant, using your credit card, or even PayPal.

Grameen Foundation
Inspried by the original Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Minimum contribution, $100. One of their projects is Village Phone — cell phones that women buy on loans and then can rent to others for income. “The Village Phone program in Uganda, the first of GF’s efforts to replicate the pay phone program outside Bangladesh, continued exceeding expectations in 2005. More than 3,500 microfinance clients have bought and now operate a Village Phone as “Village Phone operators.” Besides the boost to operators’ incomes, the program is creating a national telecommunications network. Of Uganda’s 56 districts, 53 now have at least one Village Phone operator. Often, Village Phone is the first local telephone that villagers have. Having a quick means to communicate has contributed to higher levels of productivity, savings, and safety for entire communities.”
http://www.grameenfoundation.org/get_involved/

Namaste Direct
This is one of the most direct person-to-person micro-lending programs. When you give to Namaste Direct, you are informed of the person who receives your loan, how they used the money, and their progress. ND can also arrange a visit to the lendee — this will turn your loan into a life-changing experience for you as well. But because of this directness the giving area is limited — currently to Mexico and Guatemala. No minimum contribution.
http://namaste-direct.org/

FINCA Village Banking
FINCA makes loans directly to the poorest villages. They aim their lending to 10-50 neighbors who come together to form a village banking group, and who in turn decide who should get what and how much. FINCA specializes in small loan amounts ($25-$500) for the very poorest. The minimum contribution to their program is $25. While a few hundred dollars is powerful, with only $5,000 you can start a whole village bank for micro-loans, thereby compounding the power of micro-finance to an entire small community.
http://www.villagebanking.org/donate-vbsponsor.htm

Unitus
Minimum contribution, $100. Since they accept PayPal, I found this program really easy to contribute to. (Get with it, others!) Unitus, like Accion below, funds other local micro-finance programs, rather than direct loans to individuals. “Unitus seeks to identify highest-potential emerging MFIs (Micro-Finance Institutions) and help them to achieve exponential growth.”
http://www.unitus.com

Accion
Accion is an umbrella institution providing technical assistant to local micro-lending institutions. Minimum contribution, $35.”ACCION is leading the effort to make micro-lending financially self-sustaining. Micro-lending programs have the potential to cover their own costs. The interest each borrower pays helps to finance the cost of lending to another. In most poverty alleviation efforts, every person helped brings the program closer to its financial limits. Successful micro-lending programs, on the other hand, generate more resources with each individual they help. As a result, well-managed micro-lending programs generate more income than they spend. Once they become economically viable financial institutions, they have the ability to access a virtually unlimited source of lending capital – the billions of dollars invested in the world’s financial markets. Several of ACCION’s partners have already made the transition from nonprofit, charity-dependent organizations to banks or other regulated financial institutions.”
https://www.accion.org

My suspicion is that over time the inherent self-sustaining qualities of micro-lending will mean it won’t need charitable support to keep expanding. But the idea is still in its infancy; billions of people are still out of its reach. That means that every dollar given today will not only cascade its blessings on many others, but funding micro-lending now will also greatly accelerate the time when anyone in the world will have access to a small loan.

God bless us all, everyone.

-- KK