Archive for December, 2012

Monday, December 24th, 2012

Save Money During the Holidays


For many people, Thanksgiving starts the holiday gift giving season.  And while we have seen some improvement in the economy, for millions of Americans this time of year brings plenty of stress too.  When money is hard to come by, how can we save a few dollars while keeping everyone happy?

If you are buying for your kids, and they really want a video game system, consider getting them something retro.  Instead of shelling out hundreds of dollars for a new game system (not to mention the games, and internet subscriptions), you could consider getting your kids an older game system, like a Nintendo NES, or SEGA Genesis.  While these systems are a little harder to come by, they are still available and run much cheaper.

If you and your significant other are still contemplating gifts for each other, consider buying yourselves a present.  If you have a budget for each other’s gifts, let’s say $100, then why not buy one gift for the two of you for $100?  You treat yourselves to a nice date night, or, if your budget is a little higher, to a weekend trip somewhere.  If you get something for the two of you, then you could probably help save some money (of course, you still may want to consider getting a small side present, like flowers, to surprise your significant other).

And, while it may sound cold, really think about how much you spend on presents for the people you don’t see very often.  Do you really need to buy your second cousin a $75 sweater that they don’t want?  A few small presents that show you know what they like (specially picked out music, for example) may be much cheaper and more appreciate by them.

And that’s probably an important idea to follow for all of your gifts.  More money doesn’t mean a better present.  Instead of giving cash or a gift card, spend time thinking of a meaningful present.  Spending time deciding what to get someone can save you from spending a lot of money buying it later- and the odds are much better that they’ll like it too!

The final tip to help you avoid filing bankruptcy is, most obviously, to spend within your limits.  Everyone is aware that times are tough.  And anyone that you are buying gifts for would rather you spend a little less, as opposed to burying yourself in more debt.

Times are tough for everyone, and no one is going to judge you if you spend a little less this year than you did ten years ago.  And if, on the off chance, someone does judge you for the amount of money you spent on them, then they probably weren’t worth the present in the first place.

Friday, December 21st, 2012

Amazing Last-Minute Holiday Gift Ideas

Money may be the ace in the hole, one-size-fits-all gift, but when you’re on a tight budget a $5 gift can seem—at best—a little lackluster or—at worst—reminiscent of Ebenezer Scrooge.

DIY gifts are great if you are short on time and trying to get out of debt, and the extra thought you took in making something rather than buying speaks volumes.

last minute holiday ideas for gifts

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For the Kids: Play Dough

Play Dough is easier than baking cookies—no fussy ingredients, no bake time. Just mix, heat, and cool, and you have childhood in a ball. Did we mention it is hilariously inexpensive? Just wrap it in a leftover plastic container for a quick and easy gift.


  • 1 C flour
  • 1 C water
  • 1/4 C salt
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • food coloring (for each batch, 4 drops)


  • 1) Combine in a pot and stir.
  • 2) Put pot on the stove. Cook at medium heat, stirring constantly, until it forms a ball.
  • 3) As soon as it forms a single ball, remove from heat. Let it cool on the counter or wax paper.
  • 4) When cool, knead until soft.

For the Stressed People: Hot/Cold Neck Wraps and Stress Balls

Now as ever, people are worried about a lot of things: money, work, school. The holidays can be especially stressful. Imagine the relief of a wind down with a warm or cool neck wrap. This project is also pretty cheap (we estimate $10-15 for a yard of fabric, but you can always find cheaper online). However, it does require a little bit of sewing.

Hot/Cold Neck Wraps


  • 1/4 yd flannel fabric
  • 8 C rice
  • thread
  • scissors
  • sewing machine or know-how


  • 1) Cut flannel in half—about 21”x9” or something close—and fold in half lengthwise, with the exterior fabric on the inside.
  • 2) Pin the sides and sew two sides about 0.25” from the edge. Use a back stitch to secure thread.
  • 3) Turn your fabric right side out and pour rice inside. You can add a little more or less depending on your taste.
  • 4) Leave enough room inside so the wrap isn’t stiff.
  • 5) Shake the rice down to the closed end. Tuck the raw edges inside, pin, and sew the opening closed. Use a back stitch to secure thread.

Makes two wraps. To heat, microwave for 60-90 seconds. To cool, put it in the freezer. The beauty of this is that you can pick the fabric for that special recipient.

Stress Balls


  • balloons
  • flour
  • spoon
  • funnel or cake decorating tip
  • ribbon
  • marker
  • paper
  • hole punch


  • 1) Using the funnel, fill balloon with flour.
  • 2) Press out as much as you can. Tie.
  • 3) If you want to leave a message, cut paper into a tag, punch, and decorate. Use ribbon to secure the message to the stress ball.

For the Coffee/Tea Drinkers: Mustache Mugs

Really, these could be more than mustache mugs- they could be whatever you want. But everyone loves mustaches, and it’s a quirky way to personalize something. (Just think: a handlebar mustache on your morning coffee.) This DIY is a little pricier- between the mug, gel, and pen you’ll be pushing $20 (if you buy off-brand stains).


  • mug
  • permanent marker (a Sharpie® or similar)
  • porcelain gel, paint, or stain (Pébéo® or similar)
  • porcelain pen (Pébéo® or similar)


  • 1) Draw a mustache (or whatever) in marker on your mug.
  • 2) Trace the edges with the porcelain pen.
  • 3) Fill in the mustache (or whatever) with gel stain. It will take more than one coat to get a solid shadow - keep at it!
  • 4) Follow the directions for the stain (Pebeo Pen and Gels bake at 300 degrees F for 30 minutes to set, but other brands may be different).

For the Stylish Ones: No-Sew Multi-Strand Scarf and Paper Clip Earings

Guys, sometimes DIY style projects are dominated by women, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take these on. They’re as easy and cheap as a recycled t-shirt and some paper clips.

Multi-Strand Scarf


  • old t-shirt (bigger is better)
  • scissors
  • ruler


  • 1) Cut off the bottom hem.
  • 2) Cut 1”-2” wide horizontal strips from the bottom to the armpit. Use the ruler as a cutting guide, but don’t worry if they’re a little off.
  • 3) Set aside bottom hem. Stretch all strips together until they get long and the rough edges roll inwards.
  • 4) Cut the bottom hem to make it a string. Knot it around all the strands, tightly.
  • 5) Trim the loose ends and tuck the knot under wrapped fabric.

Paper Clip Earrings


  • paper clip
  • fast drying epoxy or hot glue
  • cotton string
  • earring hooks


  • 1) Create a triangular shape with the paperclip.
  • 2) Glue the ends together.
  • 3) Wrap string around edges of the clip, outlining the triangle. Secure with glue.
  • 4) Use a second length of string to wrap across and around the earring, get as wild and creative as you like.
  • 5) Clamp earring hooks to the top of the traingle.

The key thing to remember about DIY projects is that you're only truly limited by your creativity, even on a budget.

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More Ways to Save Money

Giving fantastic gifts is never easy when you're struggling with debt. Make the most of your situation by checking out these other guides from Total Bankruptcy:

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

The Doomsday That Never Comes

Some Doomsday preppers spend extraordinary amounts of money preparing for the end of the world.

One man in Australia spent over $350,000 on a plot of land to build a house and bunker 1,500 feet above sea level, a pickup truck to get his family safely to the spot, food, water and survival gear. In order to do this, he had to take a second mortgage out on his home.

If the world does not come to an end, all the money people are spending on the preparations for such a disaster could lead to a lot of debt and potential bankruptcies.

doomsday events that never came

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Wang Laboratories, First Virtual, and Napster may sound familiar. Or you may never have heard of them. Each company changed the way we use computers.

But not all fairy tales have happy endings—each ended up filing for bankruptcy protection.

bankrupt tech companies

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Wing Laboratories

  • Started in 1951 by Chinese immigrant An Wang, Wang Laboratories began as a calculator business.
  • They went public in 1967 at $12.50 a share. The first day of trading closed with Wang Laboratories at $40.50 a share.
  • The company led the charge in office word processing, debuting the 3300 computer in March of 1971.
  • The 3300 could support 2-16 users and had a 4K memory drive.
  • To expand the company, Wang took out millions in loans, as many other businessmen did in the 1970s and ‘80s.
  • Wang Laboratories failed to keep up in an ever-growing, ever-changing industry.
  • After years of job cuts and profit losses, their revenue hit $3 billion in 1988.
  • An Wang fired his son as president and named Richard Millard to lead the company in restructuring after a $424 million loss.
  • Wang Laboratories teamed up with IBM, one of their largest competitors, in 1991. The company lost $386 million in the partnership.
  • On Aug. 18, 1992, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy (announcing a $550 million debt).
  • Modern word processing
  • HP
  • IBM
  • Microsoft
  • Apple


  • Then-college student Shawn Fanning was struck by inspiration in mid-1999.
  • He feverishly coded the first-ever music file-sharing program, Napster, despite everyone he mentioned it to saying it would never catch on.
  • Napster reengineered how people share files (specifically music) online.
  • In less than a year of operation, Napster exceeded 25 million users.
  • Usership surpassed 70 million in 2002.
  • What had once been a minor irritation to the music and movie industry became a huge problem.
  • Metallica and Dr.Dre both filed copyright infringement lawsuits in early 2000.
  • By July of 2000, Napster was shut down by an injunction filed by the Recording Industry Association of America. The Ninth U.S. Court of Appeals stayed that injunction.
  • Napster partnered up with Bertelsmann AG to develop a payment system for artists.
  • In 2001, the Appeals court ordered a stop of sharing, but allowed Napster to remain in business.
  • Layoffs ensued.
  • On June 3, 2002, Napster filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Their assets amounted to $7.9 million in cash and $101 million in liabilities.
  • Bertelsmann AG bought the company for $8 million and forgave Napster’s $91 million debt.
  • Kazaa
  • Morpheus
  • BearShare
  • Gnutella
  • LimeWire
  • Any P2P file sharing site.

3dfx Interactive

  • Started in 1994, 3dfx pioneered the industry in graphic chip developments.
  • Their graphics chips—Voodoo especially—became the darling of gamers everywhere and the new industry standard.
  • The chips were the first generation of modern-day graphics, accelerating game speeds and rendering.
  • As one MIT hardware reviewer put it, “Blood has never looked this good.”
  • Delayed products and lackluster reviews crippled sales, prompting layoffs.
  • In late 2000, rival Nvidia bought out patents, brand names, and graphics chip inventories for $70 million and $1 million in common stock.
  • 3dfx filed for Chapter 11 in October of 2002.
  • Modern computer graphics as we know them.
  • Advanced shading.
  • Realistic texture rendering.
  • Detailed lighting effects.
  • 3D rendering of complex models in real time.

Bankruptcy's Not All Bad

Bankruptcy has a bad reputation, but it has helped many Americans and many companies get back on their feet.

Check out our report on how bankruptcy helped these businesses (including Continental Airlines and General Motors).

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Doomsday Events That Never Happened


Doomsday myths have propagated the world for centuries, and yet we’re still here.

With December 21, 2012 quickly approaching, preppers from near and far are busy preparing for the worst, and spending hundreds of thousands dollars doing it.

Halley's Comet: 1910

When astronomers discovered the Earth would pass through the tail of Halley’s comet that year, mass hysteria ensued thanks to tabloids.

Many thought a poisonous gas would penetrate the atmosphere and end the world. Entrepreneurs capitalized on the craze, selling products that would protect people from a gas that never materialized.

December 21, 1954

Housewife Dorothy Martin founded a cult known as the Seekers. She informed her followers aliens from another planet, Clarion, were sending her messages that indicated massive apocalyptic flooding would begin on December 21, 1954.

She and her cult followers gathered to await a spaceship to be “rescued” from the supposed cataclysmic danger. When nothing happened, she maintained the group had convinced the “God of Earth” to spare the planet, but the cult disbanded shortly after.

Nostradamus: July 1999

The 16th-century French astrologer and physician is well known for his predictions.

Many of them have been tied to historic events, but Nostradamus’ prediction that a “king of terror” would come from the sky and destroy the planet in July 1999 was false. Many believed he was referring to a meteor, but nothing happened at all.

Y2K: December 31, 1999/January 1, 2000

Many believed computers programmed with two-digit years rather than four would revert to 1900 rather than rolling over to 2000 at the start of the year.

While there was some panic (such as a CNN report of a milk shortage due to failing farm equipment), and even warnings of nuclear war as a result of the programming error, the hysteria didn’t reach the expected level.

Harold Camping

Harold Camping is a famous for his failed doomsday predictions going back to 1978. In 2011 alone, he had two failed predictions: May 21, 2011 and October 21, 2011.

His May 2011 predictions drew a lot of media attention, thanks to billboards and mass advertising. He gained a large following of people, many of whom drained their life savings to prepare for the return of Christ. When his May prediction failed, he claimed his math was off and changed the date to October 2011, a date that was also uneventful.

December 21, 2012: Why it Won’t Be the End

There are many reasons why the world won’t end in just a few weeks. The Mayans believed the Earth runs in cycles. December 21, 2012 marks the end of a cycle, and a re-birth. As time renews, so does the world. Some say a breaking away of the continents will destroy the world this year, but scientists say any shift in continents will be subtle, and not drastic enough to end civilization.

Some say the galactic alignment that only occurs once every 26,000 years spells doom for our planet.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) experts say there’s nothing out of the ordinary about the alignment we’ll be entering. A planetary alignment occurs with every winter solstice, which happens on or around December 21st each year.

Others maintain a “planet X” is on its way to colliding with Earth and will cause mass destruction. NASA says there’s no object out there. Still others claim solar activity will end the world, but once again, NASA experts say solar flares are not following the typical 11-year cycle, and therefore aren’t expected to make any impact in 2012.

Rather than risking bankruptcy preparing for the end of the world, it is far wiser to prepare financially for personal disasters such as job loss and illness.


The government bailout of American International Group, AIG, was one of the more controversial decisions in recent times.  The long journey is nearing an end as the Treasury Department has announced plans to sell its remaining 234.2 million shares, or roughly 16 percent of the company.  The sale will take place in the form of a public offering.

When the Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection in September 2008, the government acted quickly to help AIG avoid a similar fate.

The New York Times reported that AIG was “an insurance giant that had become deeply intertwined with many Wall Street and European banks through its underwriting of credit-default swaps.  The fear was that a collapse of the company could bring down the global financial system.”

The financial safety net extended to AIG was also given to a number of other financial institutions and companies which were deemed too big to fail.  These companies included General Motors and many in the auto industry.

Many people reacted to the bailouts with frustrations.  Ben Bernake, the Federal Reserve’s chairman and key architect to the plan said, “We had no choice but to try and stabilize the system because of the implications that the failure would have had for the broad economic system.”

At one point the government owned nearly 92 percent of AIG.  Now that number is around 16 percent and after the sale, the government will be completely free of AIG stock.

In order for AIG to emerge from the bailout the company had to undergo significant changes.  AIG was once one of the largest international companies.  And while still massive, it had to reduce its operations in order to improve it marketability.

The article described the reduction of AIG.  Under the bailout, “the insurer [became] much more streamlined.  Shrinking the company to a more manageable size meant disassembling a disparate array of businesses built over decades by Maurice R. Greenberg, the former chief.  Enormously valuable operations like the AIA Group and the American Life Insurance Company, two international life insurance units, were spun off or sold to raise cash.”

AIG has continued to sell off assets in order to streamline the company and make it more sustainable and profitable.  Very recently AIG agreed to sell a majority stake in an aircraft leasing operation to Chinese buyers for nearly $4.2 billion.

With the final sale looming, AIG shares are on the rise.  In 2012, AIG's stock has risen 45 percent, an impressive jump for any company.

There are many mixed emotions and feelings about the government becoming this involved in a private company.  And while many people have passionate views on both sides, it seems most people are enthusiastic about the final sale.

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Real Housewives, Real Bankruptcies

Do you ever flip to Bravo and think that these people shouldn't be spending that kind of money in this kind of economy?

Little did they know, many of these real housewives would be spending a considerable portion of their remaining wealth on a bankruptcy attorney.

real housewives and bankruptcy

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Sonja Morgan

Ex-wife of a J.P. Morgan descendent turned "Real Housewife," Sonja has reported that the bankruptcy left her "heartbroken," and that her Upper East Side townhouse means everything to her.


  • New York

Date and Type of Bankruptcy:

  • November 17, 2010
  • Chapter 11


  • $19.8 million
  • $7 million of that will go to Hannibal Pictures for a film that was supposed to star John Travolta


  • $13.5 million
  • $6 million Upper East Side Townhouse


  • $26,000/month

Leading Causes Behind bankruptcy

  • Poor business and money decisions
  • Lengthy unsettled divorce

Teresa and Joe Guidice

Two scarily tanned people living way beyond their means.


  • New Jersey

Date and Type of Bankruptcy:


  • $10,853,648.04 (It's that $.04 that will break them)


  • $79,000/year salary
  • +$120,000 in "assistance" from family members
  • =$199,000

Leading Cause Behind Bankruptcy:

Insanely extravagant spending habits.

  • $104,000 in credit debt
  • $1,280 monthly payment on a Cadillac Escalade
  • $2.6 million on 8 mortgages for 3 homes
  • $5.8 million in business investments
  • $85,600 for home repairs
  • $12,000 for fertility treatments
  • $2,300 for their phone bill

Michaele and Tareq Salahi

Infamous for gate crashing at the White House, the Salahis declared bankruptcy in relation to a family winery, and lost a couple of expensive vehicles for it. Several lawsuits are also tied to the couple.


  • Washington, D.C.

Date and Type of Bankruptcy:

  • 2009
  • Chapter 11


  • $1 million


  • 2004 Aston Martin - $150,000
  • Carver 350 Mariner Boat - $90,000

Leading Cause Behind Bankruptcy:

  • Carrying on an extravagant lifestyle while handling a hefty business bankruptcy.

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Ex-baseball star Lenny Dykstra has pleaded guilty to bankruptcy fraud.  A recent article in the Chicago Tribune is reporting that the former hero of the 1980s World Series was sentenced to six months in federal prison and ordered to perform 500 hours of community service.

Dykstra, 49 years old, is already in prison serving time for grand theft auto, lewd conduct and assault with a deadly weapon.

Dykstra filed for bankruptcy in 2009, but defrauded his creditors by destroying or stealing furnishing, baseball memorabilia and other property from his $18.5 million estate- which he purchased from hockey great Wayne Gretzky.

Fraud is a major issue in bankruptcy cases.  Depending on what type of bankruptcy you file, when you file for bankruptcy you are, typically, allowed a fresh start from that date.  Anything you earn after the filing is yours to keep.  The flip side is that anything you earned prior to the filing is subject to your creditors (this is a fairly simplistic explanation, but it is usually the case).

By trying to use items that were subject to his creditors in his post-filing life, he was keeping money from his creditors.

This wasn’t the first bit of trouble that Dykstra has run into since his baseball career.

In March of 2012, he was sentenced to “three years in state prison after pleading no contest to grand theft auto in what Los Angeles County prosecutors said was a scheme to lease cars using phony business and credit information.  And in April, the former athlete was sentenced to 270 days in jail and 36 months probation after pleading no contest to lewd conduct and assault with a deadly weapon.”

The charges in April apparently stemmed from an incident where Dykstra exposed himself to a woman who answered a Craigslist ad to be his assistant and housekeeper.  One of the women who responded to the ad even claimed that Dykstra held a knife to her and forced her to give him a massage.

Even with his deplorable conduct, many still remember Dykstra from his playing days.  Nicknamed “Nails,” Dykstra spent 11 years playing major league ball as an outfielder primarily with the Mets and Philadelphia Phillies.

His major league career is most notable from his 1986 season when he hit a walk-ff home run in game 3 of the National League Championship Series.  Then in game 3 of the World Series, he hit a leadoff home run which helped spark a comeback by the Mets to overcome a 2-0 series deficit and win the World Series.

While the spiral for Lenny Dykstra has been undeniable, one can only hope that after his time in prison he will be able to get his life back on track.