Friday, October 29, 2010

The Twenty Dollar Micro Business Challenge

Everyone dreams about making additional income, but the idea of setting up a your own business can be overwhelming. That's the problem! Before making a single dollar, we tend to buy business cards, start building websites, designing logos, writing business plans, looking for investors, and scouting for employees. We burn out because this "additional income" just became another full time job. Stop it! There is no need to open 40 Jamba Juice locations, when a simple lemonade stand would suffice. Start small and let your business grow as needed.

How Small? Well....$20 dollars goes farther than you think.

Go to the bank and withdrawal $20 bucks cash. Put it in an envelope and write the date on it. You now have everything you need to start your own micro business. Below are some examples of micro businesses to get your creative juices flowing:

Antiquing-Go to a garage sale to see what you can find for under $20 bucks. Resell this item on Craigslist or Ebay for a profit.

Walk dogs - Buy some poop bags, doggy treats, and make some cheap fliers.

Hauling- Got a Truck? Put an add on craigslist offering to help someone move, or to take a load to the dump for a profit. Dump fees are $20 in my area, but Yard waste is free, you do the math.

Car Washing - Get some soap, an old towel and a Soft sponge.

Tour Guide- Do you live near a tourist hot spot? Try showing out-of-towners to the local must see sights.

Hobbies - If you already have a hobby like knitting, painting, photography, pottery, tying fly-fishing lures, or have a vegetable garden. Use the $20 to market these products.

Skills - Do you speak another language, know how to cook, understand Math, or great with computers? Try becoming a tutor for others that do not posses the same skill set.

Shine Shoes- Try hanging out in the financial district with some shoe polish, a cloth and a brush.

Bakery- Spread the word to co-workers, friends and family that you are willing to make custom baked goods for any PTA meeting, retirement party, or birthday for a nominal fee.

Find a Micro Business that works for you, and try running it for one month. If you are successful, than you can think about how to earn more. The simplicity of a micro business will earn you money quickly, without the complexities of a small business.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

IVI Inc. Brings Live TV to the Internet

The Seattle based company IVI Inc. may have finally bridged the gap between Television and the Internet. For years we have been able to watch previously recorded episodes of network TV on Youtube/Hulu. Then Slingbox came along and offered a way to stream your local cable channels from one location to any laptop or desktop. But until now we haven't been able to stream live local network TV from various locations around the country, to any computer in the country.

After downloading the IVI Player a Redsox fan living in Arizona can now watch the same live local NY broadcast of the game just like he was a block away from the stadium. During the commercials he can flip channels to check out the Mariners game and get local Seattle news and weather. Various local channels are now just a click away, no matter where you are. IVI lets you choose which brocast location of Fox you want to watch. It also allows you to pause fast forward and rewind live TV.

IVI makes it possible for me to watch live TV on my laptop during my commute on the train, just like I was sitting at home.

Here are some of the Pros and cons that I found:
1.) User interface is very easy to use.
2.) Picture is Clear, but not yet HD.
3.) Currently limited to NY and Seattle but more stations are coming.
4.) No buffer delay or pause when flipping channels.
5.) First month is free, but it costs $4.99 or $5.99 per month. (Still cheaper than basic cable)
6.) No Box or Equipment.
7.) It can be installed on multiple computers, but only one will play at a time.
8.) Includes all the major networks ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX
9.) Does not yet have all the regular cable channels.

Overall I am very impressed with the IVI player, and recommend it for couch potatoes on the go.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Emergency Waterproof iPhone Case

My friend and I regularly go salmon fishing on the local rivers. While wading across the river he accidentally submerge his iphone. Now the screen is dark and the button doesn't work.

On our next outing I decided to carry my phone in a zip-lock bag as a safety precaution. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the touch screen still works while inside. The display can also be easily viewed through the plastic. This no-brainer actually works quite well.

The next time you go near water, try putting your cell phone in a zip-lock bag. It is a cheap way of avoiding a costly mistake.

Fight Quasimodo with a Yoga Ball

Minding your posture can be a difficult and daunting task, especially if you are tall like me. At 6'3" I've started to realized that my old high school slouch is becoming a full on Montgomery Burns. I've never had back problems growing up, but as I get older there will be days when I feel soreness and tension. I consulted a Chiropractor, who recommended arching my back over a yoga ball twice a day. As embarassing as it was, I went out and bought a yoga ball. Now it has become my new favorite past time. After a long day, I look forward to coming home and stretching out my back. I've been sleeping better at night and my posture is improving.

How much time do you spend lounging on a couch, leaning over a desk, or stuck in traffic? When was the last time you stretched out your back. Maybe its time to swallow your pride, be a man, and buy a yoga ball.

Friday, May 14, 2010

RFID blocker

Maybe I am just overly paranoid, but these days RFIDs are everywhere. They're in your credit cards, your cell phone, employment badges, public transportation passes, electronic toll booths, retail packaging. They are used to find lost pets, track livestock, and in some cases implanted in you.

If you are worried about someone stealing your identity or credit card information using a RFID reader, here is a simple trick for you:

Cut a piece of aluminum foil about the size of a dollar bill, and place it in your wallet. When your wallet is folded up in your pocket, any credit cards or ID badges wrapped inside the foil will be impervious to an RFID reader. I experimented at work, and sure enough my proximity card won't open my office door if there's a sheet in aluminum foil between the card and the reader.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Great Marinades and Seasoning for Free

The summer grilling season is almost here, and the only thing better a marinated tri-tip, is not paying $4.00 for a bottle of marinade. Here's how:

We've all seen the marinaded meats behind the glass at our local grocery store, but what you may not know is that most butchers will happily add your choice of marinades, and seasonings to any meat you buy for free.

Our local Safeway, has a very friendly butcher. He's always talking about what's on sale, grilling techniques, and all his must try recipes. It seems like every time we go in he's got a new marinade. Routinely we'll select a nice package of ribs, steak, or chops, and bring it to the butcher counter. He'll ask us what kind of marinade we want, put the meat in a zip lock bag, and add a generous portion of marinade. The marinade begins soaking into the meat before we have even finished shopping, and it is usually ready to cook when we get home.

So, the next time you buy grilling meat, try having the butcher add a marinade or seasonings.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Understanding Time Constraints

Always strive to do your best, but take into consideration uncontrollable factors like time.

Suppose we are entering a sand castle making contest, and the lucky winner will receive a new pick-up truck. You are probably already thinking about how to build your castle. Now ask yourself how time can affect the quality of your castle. If you were given a week to build the castle, it would probably include a tower, a mote, windows, and a working drawbridge. If you were only given 30 seconds, the castle would probably resemble a square shaped ant hill. In this example, time plays a significant role in the outcome of your castle, regardless of your effort. This concept carries over to many situations in life.

When you are confronted with any task, the first question to ask yourself is how much time and effort is needed to accomplish it. If while hiking, you come across a stream, you may want to use a log to make a temporary bridge. But if this stream was on your property and used daily to get to your house, it might make more sense to construct a proper bridge.

Trying to build the Great Wall of China in a day will surely lead to disappointment, just like using chewing gum to fix a plumbing leak is a bad idea. The appropriate time and effort must be factored into every task to get adequate results.

If my boss asks when I'll have a report ready, I usually estimate the time and add another day or two. This way when I finish early, I look like a hero, and if I run into problems I can still get it to him on time.

By understanding time constraints, you can better allocate you time and paved the way to achievable success.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Give Yourself a Raise by Managing Your Expenses

Whether it's working overtime, or getting a second job, most people will do what ever it takes to maximize their income. Unfortunately hardly anyone pays attention to their spending habits. I'm here to tell you that earning and saving are one of the same. If you want to make more money, you don't have to impress your boss. You can just as easily pass on a night out with friends, or refrain from impulse buying dvds.

To put it in perspective, think about how excited you would you be if your boss raised you salary by $100/week. You would probably do cart-wheels down the hall. Now think if you went out for dinner and drinks with friends to celebrate, that same $100.00 could disappear in a matter of hours.
We need to looked at our expenses like we look at our income. If your boss shorted you an hour on your paycheck, you would probably march into his office and demand that it was fixed. Now how you would react if on the way home you noticed the grocery store accidentally charged you twice for a 24 pack of toilet paper. You may go back in and tell them, but then again it might just be more effort than it is worth.

Just remember whether your earning or spending, money-is-money-is-money. Finding a $5 bill on the on the ground, should be just as exciting as using a coupon.

Know Your home

While making dinner the other day, half of our house lost power. All the lights in the the guest bedrooms, office, den and garage went out. But strangeley the lights in the kitchen, master, and living room still worked fine. After tracing the electricity back to the breaker panel, I found that it was not the wiring in the house but one of the power companies leads coming in that failed. I called PSE, and they came out within a few hours to restored power. It turns out there was a problem with one of the underground supply lines. This got me thinking about all the important things people should know about their home:

Be Able to Locate Your Utility Panels
Many people don't know where their electrical panel is, let alone how to shut off the water or gas in an emergency. Take a few moments to locate these items. Also consider buying a gas shut off wrench and keeping accessible.

Have it when you need it
Everyone knows how frustrating it can be to find a working flash light in the dark, but what about a fire extinguisher? If your house caught on fire, do you even have one to grab? Having a fire extinguisher can be the difference between a small kitchen fire and losing your home. At a cost of $15-$30 it is worth it. Most homeowner insurance companies will even give a discount for having one.

Lighting Pilots
Learn how to light the pilot on your water heater, fire place, or other applicable appliances. If the gas is ever shut off temporarily, you don't want to rely on a technician for warmth.

Important Documents
If you had to evacuate your home, how long would it take to gather all your important documents. Consider keeping your birth/marriage certificates, car pink slips, house title, social security card, emergency credit card, tax info, and any other important documents in a safe place that can be accessed quickly.

By taking a few moments to know your home, and organize the things inside it, you could save yourself some serious headaches in the future.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Find Your Motivators

What gets you out of bed in the morning, makes you go to work, or inspires you to clean your house? The simple answer is motivation, but a more precise answer is each individual motivator. You get out of bed for that cup of coffee, or because its better than listening to a buzzing alarm clock. You go to work so you can provide for your kids. You clean your house because you in-laws are coming over. These are the behind the scenes motivators. Motivators are the reason that we do the things we do.

Suppose you have a co-worker who is notoriously late to work. Even with an important early morning meeting, he or she is 15 minutes late. Now suppose there's a $8,000.00 incentive for them to arrive on time each day for a week. I gaurantee that same person will find a way to be there on time. The difference in this scenario is the money motivator. Normally, the co-worker prefers the extra sleep, or the relaxed commute to being punctual. Negative motivators can also have the same affect. A boss could say "If you're not on time every day this week then you are fired!"

Everyday we do hundreds of tasks without fully understanding the motivators behind them. By taking the time to identify these motivators it helps us to validate our actions. If you don't want to take out the trash, find the motivator. Would you rather live with flies and the pungent smell of rotting food wafting through your house? Of course not, so take out the trash. Are you dreading doing your laundry? You'll be the one forced to go out in public looking like Steve Urkel because you ran out of clean close that fit. Are you avoiding the gym? It may be harder to avoid your swim suit this summer or the health hazards later in life. Do you hate sitting in traffic? Try sitting at home unemployed. There are reasons why we do things that we don't enjoy. If there wasn't, the action would be a wasted effort and meaningless.

Like a dog that sits for a treat, a job hunter dressing up for an interview, or the friendliness of a car salesmen, there are motivators behind all actions. Learn what your motivators are and these actions will have meaning. Chores and hardships will become logical.

Please feel free to comment, your input motivates me to continue writing articles.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sell Your Old Books for Cash

Today I tripped over a big heavy box in the garage. I vaguely remember crating it around with me from house to house in college, but never once opened it to see the contents. When finally got around to opening it this morning, I found a ton of old books.

My first reaction was to take them to the Goodwill or a used book store, but while Googling the nearest used book store I found:

Cash4 books buys used books. This easy to use site lets you type in the ISBN # located on ever book bar code for an instant quote. I only got a few dollars per book, but shipping is free with the sites printable shipping labels. After they get your books you will receive a check or Paypal deposit.

So if you have a ton of old books weighing you down, and cluttering up your house, check Cash4books before you donate them to Goodwill, you could stand make some easy money.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Stop Bad Mouthing Your Employer

If you're stressed out, and having a bad day at work, don't vent your frustration with co-workers. It not only makes you look bad, but it makes your employer look bad as well. Bad mouthing only adds to an already stressful situation. It defames your character and does not speak very highly of your integrity. Bad mouthing your boss doesn't accomplish anything, and could even get you fired. This doesn't mean that you have to shoulder all the burdens at work. There is a big difference between complaining about your boss, and proposing solutions.

Complaining About Your Boss
It's easy to say "This is a poor way to run a business," or " We wouldn't have these problems if I was in charge." In reality, you are not in charge, and without proposing any solution, you are just complaining. Anytime you feel the need to lower your voice, you are probably bad mouthing. Finding faults in other people's actions is a spineless act, and should left up to gossipers and villains.

Proposing solutions
If you know how to make the business run more efficiently, by all means speak up. Suggest your improvement to the boss and your co-workers. If everyone is in agreement, you could be the hero of the company. A problem solver will advance within a company, while a bad mouther will fester in their own misery.

Avoid getting caught up in office politics, and stop bad mouthing your employer.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Quick Tip: Keep a Stash of Cash at Home

I don't normally carry cash. I use my debit card for almost everything. Unfortunately their are times when cash is nessesary. Whether it's tipping the pizza guy, making change for poker night, or wheelin-and-dealing at a neighbors garage sale, it is always good to have at least some cash at home. There is no need to stuff your life savings in a matteress, but having access to $100 in small bills comes in handy.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Turbo Tax Online

Today my wife and I went to Best Buy and bought the latest version of TurboTax, just like we do every year. Just before the installation, we discovered that Turbo Tax is available online for $20 less. Since our software was unopened, we were able to return it.

We used the online version for the first time, and highly recomend it. You don't have to install any sofware, and can access your tax filing from any computer. All of the version like Basic, Deluxe, Primere, Home Business, and Business are all available online.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pay Paper Bills Upon Receipt

We all have bills that are can't be automated. My local water company for example, doesn't have the technology to deduct money from my "Bills" bank Account, and the amount varies each month, so I can't use my banks reoccurring bill pay to issue a check.

The easiest way to pay these bills is upon receipt. If I'm thumbing through the mail and come across these type of bills, I whip out my check book right then and there. I slap a stamp on the envelope, and put it by the door for mailing. If I set it down on the counter, odds are that I'll forget to pay it. There is nothing more frustrating than getting a late fee on a bill that you had the money to pay for.

So try making it a rule to pay these un-automated bills upon receipt, you'll never be late again.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Quick tip: Life without the Snooze Bar

Does it take the "Jaws-of-life" to get you out of bed in the morning? Consider changing your sleep habits. Here is a trick that I use to make my mornings easier:

Monday through Friday I get up at 5:15 am. I'm usually out the door just before 6:00 to catch the train. If motivating myself to get up at this time becomes problematic, I will plan a "sleep attack."

The Early Alarm Sleep Attack

Set your alarm an hour early, and crank up the volume. The next morning after you put your heart back in your chest, and return to DEFCON 5, go through your regular morning routine as usual. If everything goes correctly you should be walking out the door exactly 1 hour ahead of schedule.

Make sure you leave the house. Either go to work early, or stop at a coffee shop and read the paper. If you go to work early it might impress your boss, and help to compensate for your temporary sleep deprived zombie state. Do what ever it takes to get through the day. When you get home, you must stay up until an hour before you regular bed time. Before you go to bed remember to return your alarm clock to it regular settings.

The next morning you will wake up at your normal time feeling refreshed and life will be wonderful. Even 5:15am can feel like sleeping in.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Long Car Trips are Better with Audio Books

Over the holidays, My Wife and I drove to California twice to see friends and family. We prefer to leave around 6:00 am, drive straight through and arrive just after 7:00 pm. To maintain our sanity during this 13+ hour drive, we listen to audio books cover to cover. A good audio book like Dan Brown's Deception Point can make the hands of a clock spin like airplane propellers while whisking you off to a far away land.

Passively listening to an audio book is much safer than chatting on a cell phone. "Drivers who talk on either handheld or hands-free cellular phones are as impaired as drunken drivers," according to experimental research conducted by Drs. Frank Drews, David Strayer, and Dennis L. Crouch of the University of Utah.

Instead of just staring at the road listening to the radio, you might consider an educational audio books. You could learn Thai, investment strategies, or even how to win an argument. If you are going to be stuck in the car for hours on end, you might as well get something out of it.

The next time you have a long drive ahead of you, try listening to an audio book and tell me what you think.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Quick Tip: $100 Tradeking Referrals

Right now Tradeking is offering $100 for friend referrals. Provide them with the email address of your friend, and if they open an account, deposit over $1,000.00 and make their first trade, you get $100.00.
Any of you thinking about opening an account let me know. I'll even split it with you.

The Extreme Credit Card Challenge

Get ready for my new Extreme Credit Card Challenge. It's the Nicorette for bad Credit Card spending habits, and if you are tired of unwanted credit card debt, than listen up.

Credit card debt is not a way of life! Don't become complacent with having it. Credit Card debt is a horrible addiction just like drinking or smoking. The only way to get rid of it is to stop spending, and start paying. Unfortunately most people just don't have the will power. There is another term for these people called addicts.

To combat the lack of will power I challenge you to a month without your credit card. See how many consecutive days you can leave your credit card at home. Many Alcoholics can easily go a day or two without a drink, but to abstain for a week or a month takes dedication. It is the same with your credit card. Are you such a junkie that you are actually depend on a credit card fix? Would your life really change if you were to only use a debit card or cash?

Starting tomorrow, take all credit cards out of your wallet and purposely leave them at home to test your addiction. Can you to survive a day without it? how about a week, or a month?

But what if there is an emergency?
Now you're talking! This is why starting and emergency fund is so important. Using a credit card in an emergency is the worst idea ever. Why would you want to pay interest on an already bad situation?

Comment on your progress, and how many days you've been credit card sober.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

ADT Yard Signs: The Poor Man's Security System

Recently a co-worker's home was burglarized. I use the term "burglarized" not robbed, because technically a robbery only occurs if the owner is present, and forced to turn over possessions. This misfortune, however got me to re-evaluate my own security.

According to ADT, "Homes with ADT® monitored security systems are three times less likely to be broken into than those homes without a security system." This does not surprise me, because the average burglar will not go near a home with an ADT yard sign, or window decals. The interesting part is that the signs and window decals are the cheapest part of owning a security system.

A yard sign and decals can be purchased on ebay for around $30-$50. These identifiers obviously don't provide the protection of an actual system, but it can greatly affect the odds of a break in. There are even companies that specialize in making fake security signs, but I heard burglars can tell the difference.

So, if you don't currently have a functioning security system at home, consider getting some authentic signs. It could be the best $30 you ever spent.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Never Buy less than $500 of Stock at a time.

A while back I opened a Roth Ira Account, as should any financially responsible 29 year old. My contributions are automatically deducted from each paycheck, and deposited into my Tradeking account. I like Tradeking because they only charge $4.99 per trade, and make trading easy for a novice like me. I plan to max out my Roth IRA contributions once I get out of credit card debt, but for now I contribute $200.00 a month.

Since I am fairly new to investing, I would just invest the money as soon as it cleared the bank. I thought that the sooner it was invested the faster it would make money. The problem is that I would pay $4.99 each time I bought more stock. This greatly affected my earnings for each small purchase, especially since I'm paid bi-weekly. Here's why:

Scenario 1.)
A modest $100 is deposited into my Tradeking account bi-weekly. I use to invest it as soon as it cleared. After doing this for six months, I was paying $59.40 in commission fees for a mere $1200.00 invested. Those commission fees eat up 4.95% of earnings.

Scenario 2.)
Now the same $100 is deposited into my Tradeking account bi-weekly, but instead I wait to six months to invest. After six months I make a single trade. For that one trade I only pay $4.95 in commission. I still have $1200.00 invested, but the commission only consumes 0.4125% of my total investment. That is only a fraction of a percent and almost unnoticeable.

Buying less than $500.00 of stock it isn't worth the commission to me. Below is my breakdown:

I believe spending 1% to invest $500 is an acceptable cost, but ideally you want to save up as much as possible and buy in bulk. How do you regularly invest your Roth IRA contributions?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Allowance Formula for Kids

My wife and I don't have any kids yet, but we are planning to in the next few years. With that being said, I came up with an idea that I wanted to run by all you parents out there.

After reading the article "Should You Pay Your Kids for Good Grades" on fivecentnickel, I developed a formula to calculate a weekly allowance for kids based on their grades.

[GPA-Unacceptable] x Rate = Allowance

Using this formula, each report card could set the tone for allowance payments. This enables an allowance to increase or decrease with the grades on each passing report card. I have no idea what the average allowance is for children these days, but changing the rate provides flexibility.

Example 1:
Your son Michael brings home a report card with a 3.29 GPA. He is not allowed to get less than a 2.5 GPA (C average). His pay rate is $10. And his allowance is paid weekly.

[3.29 - 2.5] x $10 = $7.90 per week

Example 2:
Your daughter Rachel brings home a report card with a 3.50 GPA. she is not allowed to get less than a 2.5 GPA (C average). Her Pay rate is $10. And her allowance is paid weekly.

[3.5 - 2.5] x $10 = $10 per week

Example 3:
Your other son Paul brings home a report card with a 4.0 GPA. He is not allowed to get less than a 2.5 GPA (C average). His Pay rate is $10. And his allowance is paid weekly.

[4.0 - 2.5] x $10 = $15 per week

Example 4:
Your oldest daughter Megan is starting high school, and brings home a report card with a 3.50 GPA. she is not allowed to get less than a 2.5 GPA (C average). Her Pay rate is $15 because she is older. And her allowance is paid weekly.

[3.5 - 2.5] x $15 = $15 per week

Example 5:
If you want to be really mean, you could even charge or fine your kids if they get less than an acceptable GPA.

[2.36 - 2.5] x $15 = -$2.10 fee per week

This formula rewards kids for working hard, and teaches them that there are consequences for their actions. It could also provide a platform for teaching personal finance and money management.

Please comment on whether this formula could work for your kids.

Don't Celebrate Victories Until You Cross the Finish Line

It's easy to fall short of your dreams, if you don't follow through in your efforts. Whether you're a politician leading the polls, a boxer winning a fight, or a Nascar driver with one lap to go, something can always go wrong at the last second. It's Murphy's law to have a catastrophic failure just before the smell of victory. The phrase "it's not over, until it's over" is applicable in all aspects of life.

Focusing beyond goals, will usually ensure success. In football, it's much better to run a touch down into the locker room like Forrest Gump, than to get tackled on the 1 yard line doing your victory dance. Never assume the win until you've actually won.

In Hollywood movies, villains are unable to grasp this concept. With the hero captured, and the planet doomed, the villain decides to go off and relish in his own dastardly deeds. This often allows the hero time to escape and save the day. If only the villain would see his evil plans to the bitter end, he would be much more successful.

When buying or selling a house don't break out the champagne until the paperwork is signed and the new owner has possession of the keys. All too often, couples get there heart broken because a technicality prevents them from buying their dream home. It can be equally devastating to have a buyer back out last minute. Only, once the sale is final should you start dancing in the street.