Friday, January 30, 2009

A Day of Free Financial Advice

I just got off the phone with a Kiplinger's financial adviser. Today Kiplinger's is offering free financial advice toll free at 1-888-919-2345. Kiplinger's will answer finance questions today from 9am - 6pm EST. The service is geared towards retirement questions, but they still answered all my questions regarding taxes, saving, and even insurance. I found the advisor very helpful and knowledgeable. I did have to call twice and wait on hold for 5 minutes before a got an actual advisor, but is is worth it. They showed me how to arrange my assets and investments in a way to better suit my needs. It's very reassuring to ask someone about your specific situations, and have the answers catered back to you directly. I recommend this to everyone, and do it quick because it only lasts for a few more hours.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Color Coordinate with your Pets

If you are in the market for a new couch, or planning on getting a new pet, you might want to consider color coordinating the two. As horrible as it sounds, pets and couches have about the same life expectancy. A similar colored couch will hide pet hair, while a contrasting couch will emphasize it. An abundance of pet hair makes any room feel unsanitary, no matter how clean it is. You may also want to consider other textiles like carpets, chairs and curtains. My advice is always only a suggestion, there is no need to go overboard with a monochromatic home makeover to suite you special friend.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Make an Effort to Use Chopsticks

Chopsticks are not difficult to use with a little practice. They can make an eclectic dinner feel more authentic, and provide you with a useful skill to add to your dinning etiquette repertoire.

Here are some other reason to use chopsticks:

    • Using chopsticks can also regulate the amount of food you shove in your mouth, causing you to eat slower, increasing your digestive health.

    • In a survival scenario, it is much easier to fashion chopsticks out of small branches, than it is to carving a make-shift fork.

    • Women can wear them in there hair.

    • They can be used as tweezers in tight places.

    • Chopsticks can be used as a weapon if you are ever attacked by ninjas.

    • Many restaurants provide free disposable chopstick which can be used at home and are dishwasher safe.

    • You can set the tip of the disposable wood ones on fire and light your barbecue.

    • Chopsticks can be used as book marks in your favorite cook book.

    • Disposable wooden chopsticks can be used for emergency schishkabob skewers.

    • Chopsticks make exceptional cocktail stir sticks.

    Wednesday, January 21, 2009

    Learn to Sharpen Knives Correctly

    There is nothing worse than trying to hack through a over ripe tomato with a dull knife that better resembles a blunt spoon. A sharp knife is not only safer, but makes life easier when addressing your cutting needs. Keeping a knife sharp is not a difficult task, yet most people rarely sharpen their knives. Here are some tips for turning you knife drawer into razor sharp surgical instrument tray:

    Tools Needed:
    2-3 sharpening stones (200 to 600 grit, or even 1200 grit)
    Water, or Honing Oil
    Leather Strop

    Decide whether to use water or honing oil with each sharpening stone. Switching between the two will ruin the stone. I prefer using water its cheaper. Submerge or cover the stone with water before each use. Place the stone on a towel to keep it from moving.

    Maintaining consistency when passing a knife over stone is crucial. It is important to emulate the angle of the factory edge, and to cover the entire range of the blade. If necessary practice on a sheet of glass or mirror to develop technique. Sharpening one side repeatedly before switching to the other will also increase consistency.

    Create a Burr
    Sharpen until a thin wire or burring occurs. Switch to a finer stone to alleviate the burr and slowly progress to the finest stone.

    Stropping a Finished Edge
    A leather barber strop will polish the edge ensuring maximum sharpness. The polished edge will decrease drag allowing it to stay sharp longer. Do not put oil on a strop unless it is brand new and has never been used before.

    Cutting Surface
    Do not cut on hard surfaces, which may over exert the blade. Storing knives loosely in a drawer may also dull a blade prematurely if they contact other blades.

    This method has been used for thousands of years on everything from samurai swords to sushi knives. It takes a minute to learn and a life time to master.

    Thursday, January 15, 2009

    Negotiate Your Cable Bill

    I received a pretty good offer from Direct TV in the mail today. The Direct TV offer advertises 150 channels for $29.99 a month for 12 months, 28 premium channels free for 3 months, Free HD DVR, Free installation up to 4 rooms. That sounds pretty good to me. I currently have cable, but am considering switching. I called up my cable provider to see if they could offer anything comparable to keep me as a customer. My cable provider agreed to discount my cable/Internet bill $40.00 each month for the next 6 months. They were not able to give me any free months of premium channels, or other perks. I have heard about people negotiating with their cable company, but I have never really tried it. I was surprised to see how easy it was. I still think the Direct TV offer is a better deal, but not sure if I should switch or not.

    Please comment if you like Direct TV or Cable Better. I am interested in your opinion, and it may assist with my decision.

    Don't Worry About Shopping Online

    With today's technology Internet shopping is fairly safe. The reason I say "fairly safe," is because the risk equates to about the same as getting attacked by a shark. The odds of getting your credit card number stolen are not likely, but still possible. If you are fearful of using your credit card on the Internet here are some simple tricks to calm your nerves:

    • Use a prepaid visa gift card, which can be purchased at any major grocery store. The visa gift card limits the amount of susceptible money, and is in now way linked to any of your personal information.

    • Have a dedicated low limit Internet credit card or dedicated Internet checking account. If you have a dedicated card for the Internet than it is much easier to monitor the transactions and can be paid off monthly.

    • Banks are insured. If your credit card number does get stolen most banks and credit card companies will reimburse you, and conduct their own investigation.

    • Use online payment companies like Paypal. Some sites prefer this 3rd party Payment company, and Paypal will even issue a debit card linked to your Paypal account.

    • Be aware of secure sites. Most sites will advertise Verisign, TrustE, Trust Guard, or McAfee Secure during the check out. The URL address will also change to "https://" which signifies that the information sent and received is secure.

    • If possible purchase from major online merchants, Amazon, Cabelas, or retail stores like Target.

    The Internet usually has much better deals and variety than any local merchant. Shopping online is a surefire way to save a buck, and not as dangerous as it seems.

    Tuesday, January 13, 2009

    Understanding Personal Finance

    Understanding your own finances is a underdeveloped skill for most people. We are more concern with clipping coupons and trying to find deals on groceries, than looking at the bigger picture of our personal finance. Don't get me wrong, saving a few dollars a week on groceries is important, but it's a drop in the bucket if you are getting charged an extra $100.00 a month for a high interest credit card. The effort it takes to find a good deal at the store, could just as easily be applied to switching to a lower interest card. Similarly it doesn't make sense to save money in a high yield savings or invest in the stock market if you have revolving credit card debt. You could be monitoring the price of gas, waiting for the best deal, but still be oblivious to a huge tax rebate or deduction. Saving a dollar here and a dollar there is good, but understanding your finances could save you thousands of dollars in the long run.

    Helpful Resources
    Below are some resources to help get a better grasp on your money. Learning to understand your own finances is not as scary as everyone thinks.
    learning about finance can seem overwhelming, and you don't have to become an expert overnight. It is definately worth it, since just learning one thing may save you a lot of money.

    Sunday, January 11, 2009

    DIY: $50 Portable Pull-Up Bar

    A friend asked me to help him make a portable Pull-Up Bar. After a few sketches and saw dust we came up with this handy contraption:

    We found this setup to be surprisingly stable. You can swing your legs high, and thing will not rock.

    We got all the parts at Home depot for about $53.00 including tax.

    (4) 2x6 10ft length [we cut to needed height]
    (2) 5ft lengths of light chain
    (4) machine bolt eye hooks with nuts and washers
    (1) 4 ft Heavy duty pipe with threaded ends
    (2) Threaded pipe end caps
    (4) small carabiners

    The setup up only takes a few minutes and is similar to opening and lifting an oversize step latter. Having 2 people is preferred. Safety chains are attached at the base of both sides to prevent the legs from scissoring open under weight. Once assembled pull all four legs out as far as they will go in all directions to make the biggest base possible for stability.

    The Pull- Up bar can be quickly dismantled into individual pieces and slide under a bed or couch. It can also be assembled in a back yard and left to use when needed.

    just drill a hole in the 2x6s big enough to fit the pipe, and at the other end a hole for the eye hooks. Insert the pipe screw on the caps and connect the chains.

    Its the new year time to get in shape, Here is a fun project to get you started.

    Movie Review: Gran Torino

    My wife and I saw the movie Gran Torino last night. Without spoiling the movie, here is what I thought:

    Gran Torino was very well done, and probably the best movie I've seen in a while. Although it may not be Oscar caliber, it does have many good qualities that could make it a contender. I highly recommend seeing it, as long as you are not easily offended.

    Clint Eastwood

    It is a very powerful movie, and has many underlying meaningful life lessons. Clint Eastwood does a brilliant job playing the main character, who is a vulgar grouchy old man hardened from the Korean War. In his ripe old age of 78, Clint Eastwood looks pretty old, and probably doesn't have many movies left in his acting career. His character in Gran Torino summarizes most of his casting rolls over the years, and would be a perfect final movie to ride off into the sunset. Clint Eastwood could use the success of Gran Torino to retire from acting, and focus full time on directing.

    This movie definitely caters to an older crowd. It depicts a excellent portrait of today's youth and their lack of respect for adults. It also shows traditional morals, and touches on the acceptance of other cultures. The dialogue in the movie is a bit over the top and should be taken with a grain of salt. There is also a slight spiritual angle to the movie with the regular interaction between the main character and his priest. This ads another subtle layer to make the movie that much more in depth.

    Thursday, January 8, 2009

    You can Learn Anything on the Internet

    After seeing the Matrix, we all wish that we could plug a cable into our heads and instantly learn Kung-Fu or how to fly a helicopter. The truth is that our technology is not so far off.

    Most people don't use the Internet to it's full potential. It can be great to check email, see pictures of you friends, or even settle debates over who played the villain in the latest block buster hit. But, the Internet is also arguably the most encompassing learning tool the world will ever see.

    Learning to skillfully obtain information on the Internet is as simple as "Googling" any topic. If you want to learn how to make sushi, try Sushifan. If you want to learn how to install a tile back splash, see this Lowes instructional. You can also learn how to drive a Russian T-34 tank. You can learn to speak Mongolian. You can learn how to hypnotize people.You can learn how to perform open heart surgery. Anything you could ever want to know can be found on the internet, usually for free. Instead of finding out who is getting kicked off celebrity rehab, you might want to spend a little time improving your life by simply learning about the things that interest you.

    Be creative and learn something, instead of just rotting your brain watching the latest garbage on T.V. What will you learn about?

    Tuesday, January 6, 2009

    Have an Improvement Plan (Free Printable)

    In order to excel in life we must have a plan of attack. Here is a Free Improvement Plan to help with whatever goals you have whether it is learning a new language, losing weight, saving money, or quitting smoking.

    Identify you goal. What do you want to achieve?

    Complete By
    It is important to give yourself a dead line to accomplish this goal.

    What steps are you going to take to accomplish this goal. They can be the same each time like jogging twice a week; or each step can be different like tearing up the carpet, laying down a vapor barrier, laying the hardwood floors, and reinstalling the trim.

    How often do you need to do each step everyday, 3 times a week or only once.

    Have a system of measurement to see how you are doing. Record how long does it take you to jog around the block, and monitor your improvements.

    Document what days you completed each step.

    Make sure you check off each step as it is completed.

    This plan is a tool to help you achieve your ambitions in life. So take a moment and make a plan. Plan to do that one thing that you have been wanting to do for awhile. How are you going to improve your life?

    Sunday, January 4, 2009

    Just Say No to Payday Advances

    There's something very enticing about being able to walk into any Check n' Go, Money tree, Western union, Check-into-Cash, or Allied Cash advance store and walk out 5 minutes later with cold hard cash. When you don't have enough money to pay bills or repair your car, this can seem like the perfect solution to your problems. The catch is that you are spending an obscene amount of money in interest, and starting a downward spiral of expense. Payday advances are like drugs, just say no and here is why:

    Most payday advance places have you write a post dated check for a loan amount plus whatever fees and interest they charge. The check is held for the duration of the loan, usually only a few weeks, and then cashed on a specific date. According the Wikipedia "In the United States, finance charges on payday loans are typically in the range of 15 to 30 percent of the amount for the two-week period, which translates to rates ranging from 390 percent to 780 percent when expressed as an annual percentage rate APR."

    Not only are you flushing you money down the toilet in interest, but you are also adding another bill to your already unstable finances. After the two weeks is up, you have to pay the money back. If you can't afford it now, what makes you think that you can later. The worst part is that after everything is said and done you will have paid anywhere from $30 -$100 to be in the same boat you were 2 weeks prior. Many people pay back one loan, and have to immediately take out another loan, like a revolving balance on a credit card. They do this week after week for extended periods of time forming a vicious cycle of wasting money.

    Pretend that you took out a modest $200.00 two week loan with a fee is $30.00. At the end of the two weeks you pay it back and take out another loan for the same amount with the same fees. You do this for 5 times in a row. At the end of the 10 weeks, it will be the equivalent of taking out one $200.00 loan and paying $150.00 in interest. If this was continued for the duration of a year, that modest $200.00 loan would end up costing you over $780.00.

    Payday advances are a huge waste of money. Have an emergency savings account, or if all else fails pawn stuff. Just don't spend $30.00 for a two week loan.

    Friday, January 2, 2009

    Schedule a Cleaning Day

    It can be difficult to find the time to clean your home, or worst tackle the ominous garage. There are always too many more important things to do, like checking your email, watch Law and Order, or hang out with friends. The bottom line is that nobody like to clean. We'll make up any excuse possible, but maintaining a clean home is critical to a stress free lifestyle. When you live among clutter, it places a subconscious burden on your mind and body. If you think you don't have the time to clean, you are in luck this article will show you how.

    Schedule a day a week or two from now, when you have some free time. Plan on spending the entire day cleaning. Set goals like parking the car in the garage, or converting the room that nobody is allowed to see into an extra bedroom. I know it doesn't sound like a fun way to spend your day off, but at least its a whole week away.

    Get a good night sleep the day before, get up early, and start cleaning right away. Start pulling stuff out of the garage, washing the dishes, or doing laundry. It is important to attack the mess as soon as possible to prevent procrastination. Once you are engaged in cleaning the time will fly by. Before you know it the kitchen will be clean, the living room immaculate, and you'll be parking in the garage.

    When was the last time you really deep cleaned your home? Schedule a cleaning day now.

    Thursday, January 1, 2009

    Happy New Year

    The familiar pounding of my head and my sour upset stomach is a constant reminder of last nights escapades. It makes me wonder why people say Happy New Year when the morning after is nothing of the sort.

    Just kidding, for once I didn't drink a lot last night, and I am feeling exceptionally well. For those who are not so fortunate, here are some simple tips and tricks to dealing with a menacing hang over.

    Drink Water - Wikipedia states that the human body is about 60% water in adult males and 55% in adult females. It makes sense that rehydrating yourself is the best way to feel better.

    Eat Greasy Food - There might not be any scientific evidence, but I know I feel a hundred times better after eating a big plate of hash browns or a spicy omelette when I'm hung over.

    Out with the Old and in with the New - If you feel nauseous, a quick prayer to the porcelain god might actually make you feel better in the long run. Similarly if you want to catch up on you reading while seated on your favorite throne, that may help also.

    Ginger Ale, Bitters, and Keeping the Dream Alive - Ginger ale and seven up help to calm an upset stomach. Some people like to mix in bitters. For the real champions, there is always a bloody Mary or a morning beer to take the edge off.

    Sleep-In - If possible sleep-in until you have received at least 10 hours sleep.

    Get Up and Exercise - After you have received a sufficient amount of sleep, get up and exercise. I know this is probably the last thing that you want to hear, but it truly helps.

    Drugs - Although I rarely take any form of pain reliever like Advil, Tylenol, or Ibuprofen, I do know a lot of people that swear by them.

    Tell Yourself you'll Never Drinking Again- Some how it always made me feel better to tell myself that it's the last time I will ever be hung over, and I will never put myself through this agonizing discomfort. We all know this is not true, but it makes me feel better.

    How was your night last night, and what do you suggest for a hang over?