Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!!!

Halloween is here, the ghosts and goblins of the night will be out in full force. Whether you're roaming the streets with your kids, or partying it up with friends, remember to be safe.

Each year on Halloween there is an increase in car accidents involving pedestrians. Kids run rampant through the streets high on sugar, while others have one to many drinks, and get behind the wheel of their car.

This lethal combination can change peoples lives forever, so take that extra moment to think carefully about your actions. If you plan to party like a rock star, don't drive. If you're going out with your kids, keep an eye on them, and remind them to watch for cars. Its the little things that count.

I hope everyone has a wonderful evening, and happy Halloween.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Never Worry About Paying Bills Again

Almost half of the people employed in the US live paycheck to paycheck, regardless of there level of income. [Career builder 03/09/2008 - 1:11 PM]. This goes to show that even if you got an additional $1,000 of income a month, which may seem like the answer to all of your problems, you would still be living paycheck to paycheck until you change the way you handle money.

Easy come easy go. When I was younger, I had trouble paying bills on time, and was usually scraping together last minute to afford whatever bill was due. Sound Familiar? The only way I could keep up, was to automate everything. Take a moment to find out exactly what your monthly cost of living is. I usually scroll through my online statements and write down the reoccurring bills. Establish a exact dollar amount for all your monthly bills like cable, utilities, cellphone, mortgage, etc. Open a second "Bills Only" checking account, preferably with your current bank. Each time you receive a paycheck, transfer the amount necessary to cover those bills, plus a $100-200 buffer. The left over money from you paycheck is yours to save, or spend, as you see fit. Now contact each of your bill companies to see if they can set up an automatic withdawl (ACH/EFT/wire) from your "Bills Only" account. With today's technology, most bill companies will have no problem deducting the amount owed from your account. If they don't, you can usually set up an automatic bill pay for fixed billing through your bank. The bank will be responsible for mailing out the checks, and you won't have to worry about a thing.

Monitoring Your Creation. Now that you have set your bills on auto pilot, it is time to sit back and check for loose ends. For the first few months double check that indeed your bills are getting paid and that you are not over drawing your "Bills Only" account. If you numbers are correct, and you are including a buffer your account balance should be increasing. If not, increase your buffer and re-evaluate your bills.

What Money? I have been doing this for years, and never missed a payment yet. When I get my paycheck, I only see the money left over, and paying bills doesn't even cross my mind. As an added bonus, I know the bills are getting paid remotely even when I' m on vacation. As long as my paychecks are coming in, and deposited through direct deposit, all the bills will get paid. Plus I save on Stamps.

Adding Another. When you and a significant other jointly pay bills, you can both contribute to a "Bills Only" account. Just make sure that your bills don't include each others personal bills, like contacts prescriptions, magazine subscriptions, or personal credit cards. My wife and I keep our finances separate, and only contribute to our "Joint Bill" account for our common bills. This way we don't argue about how each other spend their money, and all the bills get paid.

Out of site, out of mind. It has gotten to the point where I don't even receive paper statements. The only thing I have to do is occasionally monitor my accounts. It allows me to stop worrying, and get on with my life.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Kill Your TV

According to USA Today [9/21/2006 10:18 PM], the average person watches 4 hours, 35 minutes of television each day. That is just over 32 hours a week, or almost a second full-time job. Just think how much more you could accomplish in life, if you didn't have to work, or similarly, by cutting out television.

Television is like a hard drug, most people can't just quit cold turkey, and shouldn't have to. I too enjoy watching some TV in moderation. When most people get home from work, they want to sit down, and watch TV to relax. After your next long day at work, try relaxing by sitting in you living room without the TV on. You will find that a half-hour of peace and quite, is much more relaxing than a half hour of your favor reality TV show.

The less time you spend watching TV, the more time you have to do the things that matter. Try starting a new hobby, reading a book, going for a walk, having friends over for dinner, redecorating your home, or going out for coffee, do all the things that you wish you had time for.

If there is a show you like, go ahead and watch it, but don't just flip through the channels trying to find something that is on, there is so much more to life than finding out who is Bret Michael's Rock of Love II.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

How to Own the Night

When you're out for a night on the town, the little things are what can make or break an evening. Especially, when you go out looking for that special someone. Even though those days are over for me, having met my wife in a bar, I can still offer a fair amount of insight from spending time on both sides of the bar counter. Here are some tips I picked up over the years on how to go into any club/bar, and look like you own the place.

1. Walking in the bar is the first step, literally. Some people timidly walk into a bar, and stop just past the doors. They begin looking around like they're lost and don't belong. This is not the way to start off the night. It is important to have confidence when walking into a bar, lengthen your stride, mind your posture, and assertively walk to a predetermined destination. If you are meeting people, go to them first. If you don't see them right away, walk over to the bar and order a drink. Just don't stop like a deer in head lights.

2. Picking a drink. Sometimes trying to order a drink at a busy bar can be difficult. It can be embarrassing if the bartender acts like you're invisible, and starts serving everyone in the bar except you. It is imperative that you do not try to order a drink until you know exactly what you want. If you hesitate the bartender may lose interest, and help someone else. I usually decide on what to drink before I even enter a bar. Also, what you drink can stereotype the kind of person you are to everyone in the bar. Don't order a brightly colored martini with elaborate fruit garnishes unless you want people to think you are a push-over.

3. Time to signal the bar keep. I like to put my arms on the bar counter, and lean in just past the wall of drink-ordering patrons. Don't lean in so much that you encroach on the bartenders space, or make him think you are trying to swipe a bottle from behind the bar. Just enough so that when he looks down the line of customers, he sees your face sticking out of the amongst the crowd. Try to make eye contact with the bartender, and give a friendly nod when he looks at you. More than likely he will come over and help you first.

4. Placing the order. After you have the bartenders attention, order your drink clearly and concisely without hesitation. When he returns with your drink, pay him, thank him, and leave a good tip. For most bartenders in the US, the standard tip is a dollar per drink. If you leave $2 dollars on you first drink, and $1 dollar for each drink thereafter, the bartender will remember you, and tend to serve you first for the rest of the night.

5. Know your limit. Being heavily intoxicated brings out the worst in people, and nobody like an out of control drunk. If you don't drink much, go slow and nurse you drink. If a friends is encouraging you to drink more, order a soda or non- alcoholic beer, they will never know the difference and stop bugging you.

6. Accept liquid courage. Don't to be afraid to strike up a conversation with people you don't know. The main reason people go to bars to talk to other people, just watch for signs if someone does not prefer you company. Be yourself, and have fun. It is not as hard as it seems.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Odd Jobs Can Pay Big

In today's economy, it is important to tighten the old frugal belt, and look for other forms of income. There are many ways to make a little extra cash on the weekends, it just takes a some ingenuity. The key to side businesses is to keep it simple. Let me say that again "Keep it simple." If you enjoy jogging, become a dog walker. If you get along well with kids, try babysitting. If you are into yoga, try teaching a class at the local park. If you are fond of cooking, try catering a small party. If you are an artist, try selling some pieces. Basically take whatever you like to do on the weekends, and see if you can make a buck doing it. Remember, you have a regular job, so don't over do it by burning yourself out.

As for myself, I enjoy wood working and home improvement. I live in a new housing development. When we first moved in, a few months back, I installed my own window blinds, and saved a lot of money with minimal effort. Now, every time someone new moves in, I pass out flyers offering to install their window blinds for a nominal fee.

Any money earned in a side job is a bonus, and equally money earned, is not money spent.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Nice Guys Don't Always Finish Last

Having spent many years working in restaurants, I consider myself to be overly sympathetic to people in any service industry. There will always be problems in any job, but for some reason when customers don't get their way in the service industry, heads roll. Patrons receiving poor customer service, sometimes think they are entitled to verbally abuse, yell, and be down right nasty to the opposing employee. In reality, by elevating your aggression towards an employee you are less likely to get what you want.

Tech support is less likely to help with your computer problems after you tell them how incompetent they are, and how horrible their product is.

If you are tack full in your approach to solving problems, you may not only get the problem solved, you can also come out ahead. A while back, I was at the airport renting a car. The woman behind the counter was having trouble with her computer, and forced us to wait for what seemed like eternity. I could have caused a scene, and demanded to see the manager. Instead, I politely told her that these things happen, and I understood. After patiently waiting, she upgraded me to one of their sports cars, because I was so understanding. The sports car made the rest of my trip that much more enjoyable, and the extra 4 mins spent at the counter, now seems insignificant. There is really no excuse to be rude to others in life, nothing is really gained. So The next time there is a problem, dont fly off the handle, the problem will still get resolved, and you may end up better off in the end.

Easy Halloween Decorations for Cheap

With Halloween right around the corner, its time to decorate! You don't have to spend buku bucks to make your house the talk of the neighborhood. Here are some simple ideas we did for our murder mystery Halloween party.

An authentic looking Tombstone can be made for only a few bucks, by screwing together an unfinished picket fence slat and regular fence slat. These tomb stones are easy to make and can be quickly mass produced to cover any size yard. Putting them in the ground is also easy, I just split the soil with a shovel, then hammered them in with the spade of the shovel.

Another fun idea is to make a Frankenstein. This one was constructed for a $1.00 . I just used some old clothes and stuffed them full of old newspapers. To give the arms and legs rigidity, I put scrap 2x4's in the clothes before stuffing the news paper.

The one thing that I did buy was cheap Halloween mask at Walmart for $1.00. I figured it was easier, and more realistic, than anything I could make at home. For an added effect, I put my wife's vegetable strainer on top of Frankenstein's head. The I stuck in some scrap wire and tubing found in the garage.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Eat Lunch Every Day for $1

Everyone knows "there is no such thing as a free lunch." This is true, but you can get darn close. The cheapest way to eat lunch at work is to bring left overs from the previous nights dinner, but when there are no left overs to bring, most people get lunch somewhere for around $8-$10 bucks. I save about $150 a month by keeping the freezer at home stocked with the cheapest microwavable dinners I can find. Most stores will have 10 for $10 dollars. When I am running out the door to catch the train, I just grab a microwaveable dinner, if no left overs can be found. I have been doing this for a while and saved quite a lot of money. It is a great back up plan, I have only gone out to lunch a handful of times this year.

First Post: Live For Improvement

Like everyone, I have always wanted to better my life. It took me a long time to realize that it is not how much you make, or even how many friends you have. It is how much you improve your current situation.

In college, I had an econ teacher tell me about a guy in Namibia, Africa. His job is to swim through the raw sewage cannals in town with nothing more than a swimsuit, snorkel, and mask. He is responsible for removing large debris from piping ducts to prevent clogging. At the end of the day he earns less than the change you find on the seat of your car. Your day isn't looking so bad now is it? A simple pair of swimming fins, would greatly improve the quality of life for the Namibian. He would be extremely happy, and eternally greatful. If he can be happy, swimming in sewage, through a simple improvement like swimming fins, than so can you, regarless of where you are in life now.