Need a Freedom Year Savings Plan ? Use SmartyPig.com

SmartyPig     Simple. Smart. Savings.®

“Saving for World Cup 2014 in BRAZIL!!! 2% there and now accepting donations!!!”

—ANDRE H. (VIA FACEBOOK)Funds deposited with: BBVA Compass

What Is SmartyPig?

SmartyPig makes it easier than ever to experience the personal satisfaction and financial rewards that come from systematically saving for specific purchases. SmartyPig even enhances your savings with cash back savings that make your money go further! Best of all: it’s completely FREE. No fees. No catches. No “buying clubs.” It’s an FDIC-insured savings account — and so much more.

Open an account today and see for yourself how easy, fun and rewarding saving the SmartyPig way can be.

It’s Free

No fees to join. No fees to save. No fees to withdraw. In fact, you actually earn money when you save with SmartyPig!

Charged a high-interest rate by your credit card company after you buy something, why not be paid high interest and get cash back for simply saving up for it.

Savings accounts are securely held at BBVA Compass and are FDIC insured up to the maximum amount allowed by law.

SmartyPig creates online savings plan to reach a goal

By Adam Belz, Special for USA TODAY
(Original Article HERE)

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – A 2008 start-up called SmartyPig has combined social networking and banking to offer a new way to save, and in four years has helped people reach almost $3 billion in savings goals.

Think pig: Social Money President Scott McCormack promotes social-banking system SmartyPig.

  • Photos by Maxine Park,, USA TODAY

Think pig: Social Money President Scott McCormack promotes social-banking system SmartyPig.

The business was created by Des Moines natives Michael Ferrari and Jon Gaskell in 2008 as a high-tech way to encourage people to save for specific goals. Ferrari came up with the idea when his first son was born and he needed to save money for his son’s college education.

He wanted to save for other goals in a program similar to the college 529 plan, and SmartyPig was born.

The program creates an online savings account for goal-directed purchases that can range from travel to consumer goods to a down payment on a house. Money can be transferred automatically from account holders’ savings or checking account at their regular banks. Account holders can then use Facebook, Twitter and other social media to allow friends and family members to contribute to the goal. The deposits are FDIC insured.

Once the goal is reached, the saver can choose from a selection of merchant-provided discounts when making the purchase.

The idea caught on. By the end of 2009, it carried deposits of $212 million.

“They actually sort of jump-started the whole goal-based savings account thing,” said Stessa Cohen, a financial services analyst for Gartner in Philadelphia. “A lot of banks in the U.S. and Canada are looking at providing that.”

Social Money, the company behind SmartyPig, thinks banks are far enough behind, and eager enough to connect with customers on social media, that they’ll pay someone else to do it for them.

Every Monday for six weeks, USA TODAY will look at how fast-growing companies rely on innovation to thrive.

The company is now starting to sell the SmartyPig concept to banks, with the idea of letting them brand it themselves. That product was rolled out this spring. More than 115 financial institutions have approached Social Money about its GoalSaver program, Gaskell said, and the bank has already signed on ICICI, the second-largest bank in India by assets.

Social Money expects to announce new bank customers throughout the year, Gaskell said.

“We’ve basically taken the heart and soul of what we’ve learned at SmartyPig and pointed it at the scale,” said Gaskell.

Gaskell won’t say what Social Money makes each year, but he said the company has been operating on its own revenue for three years. In April, Social Money announced it would hire 35 new employees, bringing its total workforce to 50.

SmartyPig was part of a shift toward savings and personal financial management during the recession, Cohen said. People were ready to save money, when they may not have been three years earlier.

Like Kiva, the online microfinance organization launched a couple of years earlier, SmartyPig also tracks your progress for all to see.

“You can see how far along you are,” said Nathan Robertson, 26, who’s saving for a three-month trip to South America later this year. “It’s a little bit more fun than just a regular bank account.”

By Maxine Park, USA TODAYSocial Money co-founders Mike Ferrari (left) and Jon Gaskell.

Robertson said it’s easier to save with SmartyPig because he doesn’t see the money. It’s automatically deducted, and unlike with a separate savings account at a bank, he doesn’t see it all the time and isn’t tempted to pull a couple of hundred dollars out. He also shares his progress with friends occasionally, though he doesn’t expect anyone to contribute.

“I’ll throw it on my Twitter page every now and then,” he said. “The idea is to share that with your family and friends, and keep up the social pressure to reach your goals.”

Banks might want their own version of it, Cohen said, because it gets them into social media, a world that’s been difficult for financial institutions.

Instead of just tweeting about their earnings or their latest charitable giving using Social Money, banks can get connected to consumers via Twitter and Facebook.

“They’re collecting a lot of information that I give voluntarily,” Cohen said. “I give a lot of information to Social Money about what I’m doing.”

Banks can track their customers better and offer financial products to them when it makes sense for the customer. They can also make deals with merchants based on what consumers are saving for, and tailor advertising to them.

“This attracts non-banks who want to partner with Social Money, who say ‘We want to know what people are saving for,’ ” Cohen said.

For more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ’s. To report corrections and clarifications, contact Standards Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to letters@usatoday.com. Include name, phone number, city and state for verification. To view our corrections, go to corrections.usatoday.com.

(ORIGINAL ARTICLE HERE)

My Hometown – Hays, America

Flyover country? Not if you slow down to the small town pace and enjoy the simple life, the simple things like a warm summer evening with fireflies… 5-Stars ? Yea, hometown bias 😉

20120712-211610.jpg

What Color is Your Passport?

20120619-140133.jpg

What color is your passport?
Are you American? British? Aussie? Kiwi? Other European nations? Any other free nation where its’ citizens can travel ?

Then, you have already won the lottery in life!

That is your ticket to freely “travel-around-the-world” .
Think about how lucky you are when you read the article below.

Cheers

Anthony Arden Kobler
Editor, FreedomYear.com
———————————————

After 50 years, Cubans hope to travel freely

Associated Press
By PAUL HAVEN | Associated Press
(original article published in the Washington Times click here

  • FILE - In this June 4, 2009 file photo, Cuban coast guards, right, stop men from trying to migrate illegally to the U.S. on a foam raft near Havana's Malecon. Cuba's government appears on the verge of a momentous decision that could end a half-century of travel restrictions that make it difficult to leave the Communist-run island, even for vacation. (AP Photo/Javier Galeano, File)

    FILE – In this June 4, 2009 file photo, Cuban coast guards

  • FILE - In this Friday, April 3, 2009 file photo, people wait for relatives arriving from the U.S. outside the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba. Cuba's government appears on the verge of a momentous decision that could end a half-century of travel restrictions that make it difficult to leave the Communist-run island, even for vacation. (AP Photo/Javier Galeano, File)
    FILE – In this Friday, April 3, 2009 file photo, people wait for relatives arriving …

HAVANA (AP) — After controlling the comings and goings of its people for five decades, communist Cuba appears on the verge of a momentous decision to lift many travel restrictions. One senior official says a “radical and profound” change is weeks away.

The comment by Parliament Chief Ricardo Alarcon has residents, exiles and policymakers abuzz with speculation that the much-hatedexit visa could be a thing of the past, even if Raul Castro’sgovernment continues to limit the travel of doctors, scientists, military personnel and others in sensitive roles to prevent a brain drain.

Other top Cuban officials have cautioned against over-excitement, leaving islanders and Cuba experts to wonder how far Havana’s leaders are willing to go.

In the past 18 months, Castro has removed prohibitions on some private enterprise, legalized real estate and car sales, and allowed compatriots to hire employees, ideas that were long anathema to the government’s Marxist underpinnings.

Scrapping travel controls could be an even bigger step, at least symbolically, and carries enormous economic, social and political risk.

Even half measures — such as ending limits on how long Cubans can live abroad or cutting the staggeringly high fees for the exit visa that Cubans must obtain just to leave the country — would be significant.

“It would be a big step forward,” said Philip Peters, a Cuba expert at the Virginia-based Lexington Institute. “If Cuba ends the restrictions on its own citizens’ travel, that means the only travel restrictions that would remain in place would be those the United States imposes on its citizens.”

The move would open the door to increased emigration and make it easier for Cubans overseas to avoid forfeiting their residency rights, a fate that has befallen waves of exiles since the 1959 revolution.

It could also bolster the number of Cubans who travel abroad for work, increasing earnings sent home in the short term and, ultimately, investment by a new moneyed class.

Scrapping exit controls should win Cuba support in Europe, which improved ties after dozens of political prisoners were freed in 2010.

But Peters and several other analysts said they doubt the new rules would bring about any immediate shift in U.S. policy toward Cuba, which includes a ban on American tourism. Those restrictions are entrenched and enjoy the backing of powerful Cuban American exiles.

“I don’t think it would lead to a drastic change in U.S. policy, but an accumulation of human rights improvements could lead to an incremental change,” Peters said.

Cuba-born Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from Florida, said any discussion aboutimmigration reform on the island is a peripheral issue.

“The kind of changes I’m interested in are not about immigration,” said Ros-Lehtinen, who heads the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. “I’m interested in changes that affect fundamental freedom, democracy and respect for human rights.”

U.S. officials said they have been watching for an announcement for months, noting there has been such talk as far back as August. But nothing has happened, and they are skeptical that the Castro regime is truly committed to such reform.

Asked about possible reciprocal measures, one U.S. official said the Obama administration can’t promise anything because it doesn’t know what exactly Cuba plans to announce. The official wasn’t authorized to speak publicly and demanded anonymity.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. “would certainly welcome greater freedom of movement for the Cuban public.”

Rumors of the exit visa’s imminent demise have circulated on and off for years. The whispers became open chatter last spring after the Communist Party endorsed migration reform at a crucial gathering. But Castro dashed those hopes in December, saying the timing wasn’t right and the “fate of the revolution” was at stake.

Alarcon’s comments, made in an interview published in April, revived hopes that a bold move is coming.

“One of the questions that we are currently discussing at the highest level of the government is the question of emigration,” he told a French journalist. “We are working toward a radical and profound reform of emigration that in the months to come will eliminate this kind of restriction.”

But on Saturday, Vice Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez told exiles not to set their hopes too high, vowing the government would maintain some travel controls as long as it faced a threat from enemies in Washington.

Havana residents say they are anxiously waiting to see what the government does.

“The time has come to get rid of the exit visa,” said Vivian Delgado, a shop worker. “It’s absurd that as a Cuban I must get permission to leave my country, and even worse that I need permission to come back.”

Added Domingo Blanco, a 24-year-old state office worker: “It’s as if one needed to ask to leave one’s own house.”

Many Cubans are reluctant to talk about their own experience with the exit visa. One woman named Miru, who has been trying to leave Cuba since 2006, shared her story on the condition her full name not be used for fear that speaking with a foreign journalist could land her in trouble.

“This has been a very long process,” she said of her odyssey, which began when her husband defected from a medical mission in Africa and sought asylum in the U.S.

First, she had to get a letter releasing her from her job at a government ministry — a process that took five years. Only then could she apply for the exit visa. That was three months ago, and Miru still hasn’t received an answer. Officials say her case is complicated but won’t give a specific reason for the delay.

“I am very anxious to see my husband again,” she said.

The exit controls are a Cold War legacy of Cuba’s alliance with the Soviet Union. They were instituted in December 1961 to fight brain drain as hundreds of thousands of doctors and other professionals fled, many for new lives in Florida. That was three months before the U.S. embargo barring most trade with the island went into full effect.

Over the years, it has become much easier for Cubans to obtain permission to travel, though many are still denied, and it is particularly hard to take children out of the country.

Also, the exit visa’s $150 price tag is a small fortune in a country where salaries average about $20 a month. In addition, the person the traveler wishes to visit must pay $200 at a Cuban consulate.

Those who leave get only a 30-day pass, and the cost of an extension varies by country. In the U.S., the fee is $130 a month. Those who stay abroad more than 11 months lose the right to reside in Cuba. Before 2011, any property would automatically go to the state.

“The Cuban government has monetized every part of the humiliating process of coming and going,” said Ann Louise Bardach, a longtime Cuba expert and author of “Without Fidel: A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana and Washington.” ”Getting out means running a gantlet, and it is all based on how much humiliation you can endure, and by the time they end up in Miami, people are filled with hate and dreams of revenge.”

Cuban officials have long portrayed the measures as necessary to counter Washington’s meddling. They accuse the U.S. of trying to lure away doctors by letting them walk into any American consulate and request asylum.

Cuban officials say even ordinary islanders are encouraged to leave by U.S. regulations that automatically grant asylum to any who reach American shores, a policy Cuba says has encouraged thousands to attempt the dangerous trip on leaky boats and makeshift rafts across the Florida Straits.

It’s not clear how emigration reform will affect dissidents, who are routinely denied permission to leave and could still find themselves on some form of no-exit list.

In a recent New York Times opinion piece, dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez called the exit controls “our own Berlin Wall without the concrete … a wall made of paperwork and stamps, overseen by the grim stares of soldiers.” She has been denied travel papers at least 19 times by her own count.

Some hardliners in Florida predict any change will be merely a sleight of hand designed to export malcontents, ease a severe housing shortage and fob off legions of superfluous state workers.

But for hundreds of thousands of Cubans like Miru, the exit visa is a personal matter, not political. After six years separated from her husband, she clings to hope that she will finally obtain permission or benefit from a change in the law.

“I have followed all the rules of my country,” she said. “I’ll be so happy to leave.”

___

Associated Press writers Andrea Rodriguez and Peter Orsi in Havana, Laura Wides-Munoz in Miami, and Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.

____

Follow Paul Haven on Twitter: www.twitter.com/paulhaven

20120619-140008.jpg<

5,000 Miles Away Over the Holidays and Worried About Feeling Too Homesick ? Well, Don’t Worry, Be Happy – and Find Great Mates for a Picnic

Argentina – A Champagne Picnic in Salta on Christmas Day

As I travel around the world and share stories with other travelers and people back home this becomes one of the major reasons for NOT traveling — the holidays.  Listen, don’t let it be.  You can have very memorable experiences abroad over the holidays.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’d love to be at home for a week or so over Christmas, but with flights $1,000-$2,000, I don’t think so.  That could easily buy you another month or more traveling depending on the country.

Special thanks to my new friends, especially the beautiful English gals for putting the picnic together.  Cheers !