Monday, May 10, 2010

PSA: I Caved and Joined Tumblr

Because Blogger's platform makes me feel old. Perhaps Tumblr will help me feel young, until some other hip platform with a name that's missing a vowel comes along.

I'll be updating at and eventually will have all set up there like a grown up who has mastered the Internets. For now, go to the Tumblr for latest links, updates, etc.and know it's very much under construction. Still tweeting as usual.

Advance apologies for being an online mess for the next few weeks! XOXO! -MP

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Three Completely Unrelated Stories

1) In Saturday's Weekend Investor, we learn about something that slipped through the cracks of both financial-aid and health-care reform: student health plans. (And how you can fight back.) Obsessive and potentially creepy followers of this journalist will note that my first-ever WSJ story was about the young and uninsured. Neatly enough, the issue of graduates getting the boot from parent policies is addressed in the health care bill, so yay for media.

2) I review the NAO Symphony, a wireless speaker dock. Yes, there's video and yes it's embarrassing. And no, my dwelling isn't that bleak all the time, I just moved in. Sheesh.

3) We launched a rad new Greater New York section! This is my first blog post, and it's all about scandal! Congrats to the WSJ New York crew!

PS -- I'm rereading Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" for the gazillionth time, partially inspired by hearing Stephen Colbert talk about Harper Lee's re-readability last week, and MAN does that text still blow my mind. If you haven't read it, do so. And "Mockingbird," of course. Belated happy 84th, Harper Lee!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Friday, April 23, 2010

President Obama Comes to NYC, Wall Street Reacts

Joe Bel Bruno and I report from the front lines of President Obama's visit to Lower Manhattan.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

More on the Case of the 400 Pounds of Student-Loan Data

As previously reported, officials are looking into what's believed to be the largest-ever compromise of student loan borrower data. More details have emerged, but questions still remain.

If you were impacted or have any questions, drop me a line.

Reader comment of choice: WSJ blog seems to be the only place where anybody really knows what the hell is going on.

Always happy to help!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Who Says You Can't Be Immortalized in the Age of the iPad?

From an ad in Tuesday's Personal Journal for the WSJ iPad app:

OMG! The lower right-hand corner! It's my story! (Hat tip to an observant Amir!)

Monday, April 05, 2010

The Bank of Mom and Dad Closes

Downwardly mobile families: another product of this recession.

We explore the changes in family finances on today's front page. The decrease in household wealth comes at a time when a younger generation faces an increasingly steep price tag for higher education.

I know I say this all the time, but this story would never have happened without reader input. Thanks to all those who took the time to be interviewed, weigh in.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Fridays with

For years, consumer journalists have screamed at the top of our collective lungs: is the place to get your free credit report. Period.

In recent years, a host of "free" sites have popped up. The Federal Trade Commission fired back, and today you can read my newsy take about what the new rules are for sites like Weaves in the law, recent industry chatter and happenings on the Hill.

But don't turn that dial just yet! I also chatted with Eric Violette, the star of the now-famous controversial advertisements. We learn he has good credit and a French-Canadian accent.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Banana Museum and its Enduring Appeal

On Tuesday's WSJ front page, my profile of Ken Bannister and the International Banana Club and Museum. Got some cash? The 17,000 banana-themed articles could be yours if you bid quickly!

Be sure not to miss the slideshow! Here's to peel-shaped collars.

Previous hard-hitting journalism on page one: yo-yos, Monopoly, comics, square dancin'.

Tax Season and Proof that New York Isn't #1 for Everything

A taxtastic high five to Houston, Texas, the city with the worst tax procrastination last year.

That 1040 don't get any easier when you wait to file it at the last minute...(Plus, your accountant will hate you.)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Just Checking

In this weekend's Weekend Investor, I take a look at online-based checking accounts.

The thing is, most folks who deal with banks have checking accounts. Yet they're not that sexy of a topic.

But we're nickeled and dimed out of a gazillion dollars every year over all those little fees. Drives me crazy, since we work hard for our moolah and there are better ways to get what you want out of a bank. I get asked about this stuff by friends and family all the time. Read, and bank happy.

PS -- Over on the Juggle, we discuss whether it's worth the hassle to switch.

Monday, March 08, 2010

A Dubious Honor for the Cell Industry

Congrats to cellphone companies and banks, which once again top the list for most-complained about industries of 2009, ousting competition from the accordion and shoelace industries.

Completely consistent with my basket of angry reader emails. Keep em coming!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

One Borrower: $555,000 in Student Loans

In today's paper, I write about Michelle Bisutti, a doctor with $555,000 in student loans.

This story at times felt like an unintenional follow up to this story about student loans I wrote back in 2008.

Thanks to all of those who took the time to write in and talk with me about their experiences. With this story, like so many others, I would be completely lost without readers, experts who answer our calls.

Also, the personal finance team last week launched a brand spankin-new section in Saturday's paper, the Weekend Investor. (That's where this story ran.) You can see it updated online here every Sat morn. Or follow the personal finance groups tweets @wsjpersfinance.

Update: I blog over at the Juggle about the ripple effects of student debt. (Also, see recent devaluing a degree story.)

Friday, February 12, 2010

How the Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth (and Save You Money)

Anytime technology and finance intersect, I get nervous/excited.

So should consumers, because there's a silver lining. We've had recessions before, but never ones where it was so easy to get the internet to make sense of the fine print. That could mean skimming the fat off billions of dollars we collectively pay in fees to financial institutions every year.

Read about the sites, their founders and how they work over on the WSJ's tech blog, Digits.

Friday, February 05, 2010

The Shame of Texting

I humbly submit my WSJ reporter quote of the day:

"We once got a picture of a naked old woman." -Lauren Leto, co-founder of

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

How Much Is Your College Degree Really Worth?

In today's WSJ, we examine all the fuzzy math behind those expected lifetime earnings estimates.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

How I Read 52 Books This Year

About a year ago, I made public my goal of reading 50 books in 2009.

With only hours left in the decade, I'm proud to say, I've read 52!

But here's the weird part -- it didn't actually feel like it took any time, leaving me and my loved ones relatively sane. Here's why:

-I started to take a book with me everywhere. Between lines at the grocery store, waiting for the F train (ugh), spending time on said F train and tardy dinner guests, I carved out a couple of hours each week, even with a mere 20 minute commute. I also became less grumpy about waiting for things.
-I travel a fair amount. Flights = still never on time.
-I watch almost no TV.
-Books related to work were fair game.
-I joined two book clubs. I can’t recommend this enough! I learned so much about my friends through these nerdy gatherings. These will continue in 2010!
-I’m a relatively fast reader.
-I read multiple books at a time. This allowed me to teeter and totter through fiction and non-fiction based on my mood and avoiding the feeling of being bogged down.
-I don’t read at the gym, but am not opposed to it. Tons of untapped time there.
-I cancelled three magazine subscriptions.
-I didn't play much clarinet. Frown.
-When the weather turns crappy, I become a hermit.
-In late 2008, I became a coffee drinker. Thanks, recession.

Here's what I read in 2009, in the order I read 'em in:
1. "The White Tiger" by Aravind Adiga
2. "Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson
3. "Snow Falling on Cedars" by David Guterson
4. "The Wall Street Journal Complete Real-Estate Investing Guidebook" by David Crook
5. "Barrel Fever" by Dave Sedaris
6. "A Bend in the River" by V.S. Naipaul
7. "Diary of a Bad Year" by J.M. Coetzee
8. "Levittown" by David Kushner
9. "Other Voices, Other Rooms" by Truman Capote
10. "Boyhood" by J.M. Coetzee
11. "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold" by John le Carre
12. "The Sirens of Titan" by Kurt Vonnegut
13. “Dorothy Parker: Complete Stories” by Dorothy Parker
14. “The Memoirs of John Likkel” by John Likkel*
15. “The Orchid Thief” by Susan Orlean
16. “Out of the Pits” by Caitlin Zaloom
17. “Between the Assassinations” by Aravind Adiga
18. “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” by Mark Haddon
19. “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway
20. “The Partly Cloudy Patriot” by Sarah Vowell
21. “Blood Meridian” by Cormac McCarthy
22. “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” by David Foster Wallace
23. “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy
24. “Smart Women Marry Money” by Elizabeth Ford and Daniela Drake (For WSJ!)
25. “Then We Came to the End” by Joshua Ferris
26. “Nobody Move” by Denis Johnson
27. “The Name of the World” by Denis Johnson
28. “Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans: the Best of McSweeney’s Humor Category” ed. Dave Eggers, etc.
29. “The Stranger” by Albert Camus
30. “Angels” by Denis Johnson
31. "American Pastoral" by Philip Roth
32. "Reservation Blues" by Sherman Alexie
34. "The Insanity Defense" by Woody Allen
35. "Kafka on the Shore" by Haruki Murakami
36. "Indignation" by Philip Roth
37. "Snap Judgement" by David Adler (author Q and A)
38. "Midnight's Children" by Salman Rushdie
39. "Monopolygate" by Ralph Anspach (Obvi!)
40. "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" by Steig Larsson
41. "A Mercy" by Toni Morrison
42. "Revolutionary Road" by Richard Yates
43. "The Billionaire's Vinegar" by Benjamin Wallace
44. "The Night of the Gun" by David Carr
45. "Farewell, my Lovely" by Raymond Chandler
46. "Monopoly: The World's Most Famous Game and How it Got That Way" by Philip E. Orbanes
47. "The Game Makers" by Philip E. Orbanes
48. "The History of Standard Oil: Volume I" by Ida Tarbell
49. "The House of Spirits" by Isabelle Allende
50. "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan
51. "Liar's Poker" by Michael Lewis
52. “Timequake” by Kurt Vonnegut

I also jotted down a list of the movies I read this year. As I skim through the lists, my memory is jogged. “Coraline” was viewed with my eight-year-old nephew in 3-D, David Foster Wallace rattled me on my birthday, “Revolutionary Road” danced in my head as I wrote stories about the decay of the U.S. economy. I’m no Art Garfunkel or Harriet Klausner, but I’d recommend this quick, literary and film-diet notetaking for anyone.

Halfway through the year, I bought a new bookshelf. As I sit here on New Year’s Eve in a snow-covered New York City, I look at that shelf. It’s overflowing with different books recommended to me, some loaned, some purchased, from friends and family who cheered me on throughout the year. Also some favorites, begging to be re-read. (That practice was off-limits this year.) Stuck on my wall are dozens of post-its, also bearing recommendations. Thinking about books and lists is overwhelming, and as a writer by trade, incredibly humbling. Sheesh.
I’ve yet to decide what my goal for 2010 will be. Run a marathon? Read 52 more? Keep that damn closet organized?

One thing is clear: I’ve still got a lot more reading to do!**

Happy New Year!

*I came across my great-grandfather's memoirs while at home in Oregon in March and helping my grandma go through things. Since great-grandpa's tale was well over 100 pages, I decided to count it.
**Roommate comment on all this: "You're a supernerd." Sigh.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why It's Hip to be a Square (Dancer)

As a kid growing up in Oregon, I, like many other school children, suffered through square dancing in PE class.

I returned to my homeland for today's A1 story about the current status of young square dancers of the Pacific Northwest. Turns out, the numbers are dwindling and there's a fight to keep the tradition alive. And it's not my grandma's (or gym teacher's) kind of square dance anymore.

I also got the chance to interview historians about the hidden history of square dancing. It involves French trends in the 18th century, slavery and Henry Ford.

Thanks to everyone who helped me out with this story!

(PS -- Reader writes in that there's a square dance group at MIT called the Tech Squares! Awesome!)

Monday, December 07, 2009

My 8-year-old nephew interprets my existence

Here's his sketch:

Note the iPhone, purse, book and boots detail. Gotta start stashing cash in his 529 for art school.

(Meanwhile, at the WSJ DON'T BUY GIFT CARDS THIS YEAR! Avoid skimming, consider credit-card board games and why it stinks to be a 2008 college graduate.)

Lots of other schtuff in the journalistic pipeline, but keeping mum for now!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Life in the Severance Economy

On A1 of today's paper, I take a look at the people of the severance economy. They're confronting a reality they never thought they would have to: long-term unemployment intersecting with savings on the brink.

I consider this an unofficial follow-up to my profile of a trader who now works at a steakhouse. See also: trader who now runs a Mister Softee truck, the slowdown on the NYSE floor and tracking down former Lehman employees.

While reporting this story, my brother was laid off. Several more pink slips flowed into the hands of friends out West and in New York, and points in between. There's been no shortage of layoffs in the journalism industry, either.

I guess sometimes personal finance reporting becomes, well, personal.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Bookquest 2009: The Home Stretch

Drawing inspiration from former presidents, I'm trying to read 50 books by December 31, 2009. With roughly eight weeks left in the year, I've read 43 titles so far! Keep those recommendations coming! When the weather gets bad, my drive to be a hermit and stay indoors and be literary only increases!

Add to the list:
"American Pastoral" by Philip Roth
"Reservation Blues" by Sherman Alexie
"The Insanity Defense" by Woody Allen
"Kafka on the Shore" by Haruki Murakami
"Indignation" by Philip Roth
"Snap Judgement" by David Adler (author Q and A)
"Midnight's Children" by Salman Rushdie
"Monopolygate" by Ralph Anspach (for WSJ, too)
"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" by Steig Larsson
"A Mercy" by Toni Morrison
"Revolutionary Road" by Richard Yates
"The Billionaire's Vinegar" by Benjamin Wallace
"The Night of the Gun" by David Carr

The Pilons I saw in Paris

My own origin story gets that much more confusing while strolling in Montmartre...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Little-Known History of Monopoly

My story about the hidden origins of Monopoly and Prof. Ralph Anspach's epic legal battle over his own Anti-Monopoly game is on page one of today's paper or online for free here.

I had a blast reporting this story. I've long been a fan of the game, having competed in several cutthroat tournaments with my family through the years. (We still bicker about the results...)


Oh, and here's a video of me talking about the game's origins.