My Susan Lucci streak of losing Plutus Awards is still going strong. The biggest challenger is Stefanie O'Connell, but I've got a few years on her. She'll be fine... she's the next Jean Chatzky.
I was learning new things about personal finance, networking with new people, and getting tips about how to make this website a much better experience for you.
It's shameful that I haven't updated the design since 2007.
I've been working with a website designer to put together something fresh. You'll love it.
Expect to see it in about a month.
While that's going on, I'll be going though the ten years of articles I've written. I'll look for the best bits and pieces I've written. Then I'll combine them into articles that make personal finance easy and actionable.
I plan to start interviewing other personal finance bloggers and people who doing amazing things. I've met a few of them during this conference. Most people will learn something from their journeys. Many people will learn a few things.
Finally, the design will be great for those mobile users. That's the vast majority of you nowadays.
I've got a plan to deliver fewer, but higher quality, ads. If it works out, it will be great for everyone... and hopefully not too damaging to my wallet.
But I'm going to ask you for a little help... the stress on the little.
I need you to leave comments and questions. We learn by sharing thoughts and ideas about what works. Everyone makes mistakes and no one makes more than me... except maybe meteorologists.
A couple of months ago, I challenged you to Take the Monthly Income Challenge with me. The idea was simple: come up with some way to make more money in a month. It really doesn't matter how much, the important thing was to start it and track it. From there you can look how to grow it each month.
Each month, I come out with some kind of plan for what I'm going to do to push forward for the next month. However, before we get that let's review last month's results:
Last Month's Monthly Income Challenge
The Month's Good
July's dog sitting was off-the-charts successful with people paying holiday rates for their July 4th vacation. There was a drop-off in August, which was expected as the summer starts to taper off. While July had a big drop-off in blog income, August picked up a little bit. The "ying" of dog sitting and the "yang" of the blog ended up almost a complete wash... almost. Let's let the suspense build for another couple of paragraphs...
The Month's Bad
There wasn't anything particularly bad this month. The drop-off in dog sitting was expected as it is a cyclical business. The worst thing is that I didn't have the catch-up on any of the business opportunities that I received. That seems to be the story every month, but given the volume of requests I get, I should be used to it by now.
Additionally, we were trying to squeeze every last bit out of summer that we could. Before we blink, I'll be spending my day shoveling a ton of snow (perhaps literally).
The Month's Results
Okay, that's enough suspense. I was able to eke out a 1% gain in income. That's not every exciting, but 1% a month compounding is a huge for a whole year (around 12.5%). I know a lot of people who would love a 12.5% raise this year. The lesson isn't a new one: small wins can snowball into big things.
This Month's Monthly Income Challenge Plan
In the first couple of months of this challenge, I didn't have much a plan to grow income. If I can carve out the time to explore all the business opportunities in my email inbox, I should be able to grow income. Unfortunately, a vast majority of those business opportunities are dead-ends. It feels like there might be enough to make 10% growth. As you can tell, I'm a little frustrated about not being able to capitalize on it.
It's already September 19th, the curse benefit of being late to post this is that I have a unique view into how this month is going to go... no DeLorean necessary.
Labor Day brought a lot of dog sitting business. I almost matched August's month total in the first 10 days. Unfortunately, from there it's started to fall off.
At the same time, my oldest son had his first day of school ever. (Parenting tip: School and daycare are very different.) We had to learn a whole new routine and I had to coordinate driving two kids to two places in the morning and in the afternoon. It's a win to adjust to the new routine.
Lastly, I'm heading to the annual personal finance conference, FinCon, in San Diego this week. Since I'm in Rhode Island, the travel is significant. The conference is 4 days long, but with time zones/jet lag, I anticipate it will be a week of sacrificing immediate income. I've had to shut down the dog-sitting business for a week while I'm gone. The long-term relationships that I build at the conference help fuel the success of this blog, so I'll gladly sacrifice short-term income.
My wife is currently on a similar trip, so we're both single parents for a little bit of this month. Like any family, there's a lot of "life stuff" that gets put aside (laundry comes to mind) during these times. We'll sort through all this like everyone does, but it isn't insignificant.
I am looking forward to the month where I can put together significant progress on the self-published book I've always wanted to write. It's looking like that might be more of a October project.
What's Working for You?
Let me know in the comments. I'm particularly interested in people who have some kind of side gig such as Fiverr, Uber, or anything like that to grow their income.
I've mentioned before, I'm a huge fan of the NFL's New England Patriots. (Stick with me a bit non-football fans.) At least one day of the week, you will find me my "Do Your Job" shirt. Quite honestly, I consider the team to be the best run organization in the United States... and possibly the world.
That may sound like exaggeration, but I submit this Tweet as strong evidence:
As you can see the Patriots were 9.5 underdogs (Las Vegas thinks they are going to lose badly) only 6 times this millennium... and they responded to this extremely rare situation by winning 5 of them. Last night's win was the latest example of them performing the feat.
I remember my second year, I was doing a cold tub at like 12 o’clock at night, at the facility, just happy to be on the team. Coach was there on the treadmill watching film, and we just so happen to walk out at the same time.
So I ask him, ‘Coach, it’s pretty unbelievable you do this all the time.’ And he goes, ‘It beats being a plumber.’
“Nothing wrong with plumbers or anything, but you know, it’s unbelievable.
I can recall Belichick being quoted saying a similar thing at least a half dozen times.
When you read my About page, I have four points for why I picked the "Lazy" adjective. The biggest reason is my slogan, "Making my money work, so I don't have to." (Shhh: I'm redesigning my site with this as my tagline like it was years ago.)
However, one thing that I've overlooked is that there are different degrees of "work."
For Bill Belichick, plumbing is a very bad kind of work. Personally, I'd go with heavy construction as one of the worst. On the other side of the spectrum, Peter Gibbons trades his office job for construction and he seems to love it.
Sometimes, I can understand the appeal of being a fast food restaurant worker. I wouldn't want to do it long term, but I can appreciate working rotely for some time. I often joke with my wife that I wash the dishes 7 times a day not because I like a clean sink, but because I like to give my brain a rest.
This meandering word-soup has brought me to two conclusions:
We may be able to agree that there are different levels of "work." We might even generally agree that some work is more unsavory than others. However, there are also some outlier exceptions for some people.
Money is the great equalizer when it comes to work. If you have enough money, you can quit anything that you consider "unsavory work" and do that thing you love within reason. (I had to add that last part because "Patriots coach" is already taken... and I'd be terrible at it.)
I'm starting to see the difference between "early retirement" and "financial freedom." The first can be thought of as "not working." The second can be thought of as "having the ability to choose your work (or not.)"
Last month, I challenged you to Take the Monthly Income Challenge with me. The idea was pretty simple, come up with some way to make more money in a month. It really doesn't matter how much, the important thing was just to start and track it.
Because I've been making unusual income through websites, freelance work, and gig economy stuff (dog sitting mostly), it is a little easier for me. It's a matter of just trying to get more work done.
Each month, I come out with some kind of plan for what I'm going to do to push forward for the next month. Last month wasn't much of a plan, because the previous month of June was pretty slow with a lot of family stuff. I essentially went with "no plan" to add anything new and instead went with doing the work that I already had on my plate.
It turned out to be a good plan, but not for the reason I expected.
Last Month's Monthly Income Challenge
I'm not sure how to report July's earnings, but I'll go with this format for now.
The Month's Good
Dog sitting was off-the-charts successful. The July 4th holiday brought a lot of travel and a lot of dogs paying holiday rates. I actually made more from dog sitting than I did from my blog... which is hard for me to imagine.
The Month's Bad
The blog income went down. This happens every year with he summer slowdown in Internet traffic as everyone takes vacations. Worse, we took a week vacation for a road-trip ourselves. This puts me in the position of trying to make a month's income on 24 days. We got back to a big rush of dog sitting requests, so the blog took a back seat.
As you may be able to tell, I'm still trying to catch up as I'm writing this article on Friday afternoon... just in time for everyone to leave for the weekend to avoid reading it.
The Month's Results
Let's hear it for the dogs! The month's income was up almost 10% from the previous month. It is still down from earlier in the year, but diversifying with dog sitting is really starting to pay off.
This Month's Monthly Income Challenge Plan
I can feel myself already lining up the excuses.
It's the fifth day of the month and I'm struggling to get a second article written this week for lack of time. The world seems out to get me. Today it was Cox' cable outage. Yesterday it was spending hours on customer support chasing down a banking error. Earlier in the week, my wife was out of town for work and I was a single dad. Next week, I lose daycare for the Victory Day holiday that is probably noted by a few hundred thousand people in the United States. Oh and my wife is traveling again for work.
As a friend likes to say, "No one cares about your excuses!" He's right, but there's a Four Burners Theory at work as well. That says you have to divide your time up among family, friends, health, and work. Family seems to require a bulk of my gas. The gas I have left for work is limited, and it is divided across several different types of work whether it blog or dog sitting.
For this month, I'm going to stick with the same boring plan as last month. If looks like there's enough work out there for me to grow my income again, I just need to get the time to put it all together.
I had hoped that this month would be the month would be where I could put together significant progress on the book I've always wanted to write. It's looking like that might be more of a September project.
Let me know what's working for you in the comments. I'm particularly interested in people who have some kind of side gig such as Fiverr, Uber, or anything like that to grow their income.
When I first started this blog in 2006, I had a little area at the top that I called my alternative income. I purposely created the vague term because I didn't know how to define this income. Some people would call it passive, but blogging is anything, but passive. At the time, I was lending money at Prosper, which was much more passive.
People LOVED this feature, but I took it away.
I can think of at least four reasons:
It's hard to keep surpassing the previous month's totals. I felt like a failure if I didn't improve.
Prosper had a big hiccup and it came out that almost everyone was losing money on the loans. It's since been fixed.
When I started it, the money was additive to my software engineer salary. When I transitioned out of my 9-to-5 role, it wasn't alternative income... just income.
I started following MLM Scams and I felt like I could contribute more to society by helping people understand why they should avoid them. I'm still interested in it, but it takes a ton of time and doesn't deliver much money. I compare to helping a friend move into a new apartment and he buys you beer and pizza. You don't do it for the beer and pizza, but at the same time you aren't going to reject it.
I'm bringing alternative income back. You can have your Justin Timberlake version of "sexy", but this is mine. (Yes, I'm a dork.)
Why am I bringing it back? I have a few reasons.
I've had great success with my dog sitting business in the last year. (I feel like less of a failure.)
For the past several months, I've been busy being the full-time day care for my son, but he's finally at camp and I can start moving forward with so many ideas that had to be placed on the back-burner. It's hard to increase your income when you have to put 80% of your focus on family care. Now I'm down to a healthier 50% of family care...
I think the idea of having something very specific to motivate me. For too many months, I've been thinking, let's just get by this month. A lot of that is the aforementioned life situation, but this gives me a goal/target to hit. If I'm not hitting it, I need to do something different like find the next dog-sitting home run.
So how is this going to work?
Take the Monthly Income Challenge (MIC)
Since I've been earning outside of a standard salary for a long time, I'm going to focus on increasing my income 5% each month. I'll be using June as my base and when July is over, I'll report back on how it grew (or didn't grow) as well as what worked and what didn't work. I know that at some point, I'm going to have to adjust this percentage. Growing your income at 5% each month would be equivalent to giving yourself an 80% raise. While I like a challenge that doesn't seem realistic.
I think I'm going to let things play out for a few months before I figure out the balance between a reasonable challenge and an impossibility.
I don't want to do this alone. I want you to create alternative income with me. If you don't have any alternative income, it doesn't make sense to try to earn 5% more. Instead try to start with a number that makes sense to you, maybe $100. Each month work on increasing it a little. I recommend aiming to grow it at least $100 a month.
What do you say? Are you going to step to the MIC (Monthly Income Challenge)?
My July 2016 MIC Plan
It's great to say that you are going to try to increase income. It's another thing to do it. Because June was focused on kid-care and vacation, the initial bar is low.
I'm going to simply focus on catching up on the opportunities in my inbox that were left behind. The July 4th holiday had a ton of travel which translated to a ton of dog sitting business. It's almost as if July should be a good bounce back month on its own. In short, I don't need to launch a new business and make money with it right away.
If there's extra time, I've got a couple of blog-related initiatives to start. These may not pay off for a few months, but longer-term goals are important too.
Bonus: Take the 1% Saving Challenge
While I was looking to see if anyone else came up with this idea, I came across Paula Pant's 1% Savings Challenge. It's the same concept except with the idea of saving 1% each month.
I'm not going to take this as I already cut expenses pretty close to the bone. For example, here are some of the hundreds of ways I save money. We're all different though and maybe that kind of challenge is more your speed.
Don't Stop at Income
I just tried to show with the savings example that increasing your income isn't everything. Here are two easy things you can do to put yourself in a much better financial position. The first will only take you about 5 minutes. The second may take an hour, but it may be the most important hour you spend in your life.
Create an Emergency Fund - Digit.co squirrels small amounts of money from your checking checking account to its account. That automatically builds an emergency fund. You don't have to think about it and you'll never notice the small amount of money being moved. In five months, I've squirreled away $500. Digit is entirely free.
Track Your Money - Over the years, I've gathered many financial accounts. Banks, brokerages, loans... I got multiple of them all. The best software for tracking everything is this FREE web application from Personal Capital. You can't get to your destination if you don't know where you are to start and how to measure progress along the way.
I'd grab this before the Personal Capital get wise and start charging for it.
This time in July feels like the unofficial start of the second half of the year. Let's make it a great one!
I hope all my readers in the United States are having a great Independence Day. (I don't have a lot of readers outside of the US, but I didn't want you to be confused.)
The title of this article is inspired by my 3-year old's new favorite song from Daniel Tiger: "In some ways we are different, but in so many ways, we are the same..."
One of the many rewarding things about being a father is reflecting on the education of the next generation. In this case, there's a unifying message that I don't remember seeing elsewhere.
If only we could convey similar messages to adults. Maybe we can piggyback on "important" things such as "what color a dress is" or "the 'historic' white iPhone."
Sorry, that went on such a tangent... I almost feel bad mentioning that this is the 40th anniversary of Rocky Balboa going the distance against Apollo Creed.
Back to Independence
I feel that I can't do justice to the importance of Independence Day... and there are so many writers and bloggers who can do a much job than I can. If you are interested in it, you've probably already read your fill of articles.
While on the topic, I find it hard to ignore that Brexit was billed as a move towards independence. I'm not usually one to comment on world politics, but I found it interesting that the next day seemed like the UK woke up with a hang-over. For a few days, the financial markets agreed. It seems hard to find people who can make a logical argument for it, but maybe I've been reading the wrong news?
I thought hard about telling people to jump in an invest on the Brexit hiccup, but I didn't think it was enough of a hiccup.
Finally, I want to write about financial independence. After all, when I started this website years ago, the idea was to "make my money work so I don't have to."
I've covered a number of topics, such as peer-to-peer investing and MLM scams, but financial independence has always been the main focus. I have to calculate my net worth numbers for this month, but there's a chance, we could have reached a most important milestone.
That would be something worth celebrating, but I have another level of independence that I'm celebrating as well. I can't go into details except to say that it's more complicated than the average person ever has to deal with. I never feel like I have all the answers, but at this point in time, I certainly feel like I have most of them where it matters. Maybe one of those answers will allow me to be more transparent about what this paragraph really means.
A little while back I started a series titled "Starting a Blog." I need to pull together a few pieces, but you can get started with the important Step 1. I've written a couple more steps, but today I wanted to cover something that can be done almost any time. (That's why I went with Step [X] in the title.)
Generally, successful blogs focus on writing great content and networking with other bloggers to get it viewed.
However one of the most overlooked areas is making your blog fast. This is important because people will leave if the blog takes too long to load. Google also favors websites that load quickly... and Google can be one of the best gateway to getting more readers.
I like to say, "You have to know where you before you can get to where you are going." The 1&1 guide writes about a few tools to measure the performance of your website. I actually prefer one tool they didn't mention... Pingdom's Website Speed Test. They cover one tool that I haven't looked at, P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler).
So once you know how fast or how slow your blog is, the guide covers the basics giving tools for each step. Specifically:
Shrink Image Size - They say a picture is worth a thousand words. However, it can take a lot longer to download an image than to display a thousand words. There are ways to make images look the same on a website at a fraction of the size. This might be the best thing you can do to speed up your blog
Caching - WordPress builds a page from a lot of different places. This assembly takes some time which adds up if you have a lot of visitors. You can "cache" pages which simply amounts to saving the assembled page for the next user. It's the difference between spending two hours building Ikea furniture and having someone deliver you an already assembled piece.
Clean the Database - Over time WordPress databases get "junked up" with data. The guide gives some good tools for cleaning things up.
Eliminate Plugins - The more plugins your WordPress site has, the longer it typically takes to build pages. To use my Ikea analogy above, it is like building a piece of furniture with 72 pieces vs. building one with 20 pieces. All things being equal, the 20 piece model is going to be faster to build.
What's not covered in the 1&1 guide? They don't mention using a Content Distribution Network (CDN) or using CSS Sprites (which is fairly complicated). Also, sometimes just reviewing your basic design can help you eliminate elements that slow things down.
Are you a blogger with a website? How do you optimize it for speed? Let me know in the comments.
I have a bunch of ideas to share today. There's thread tying them together, other than them being about business, so I'm just referring to it as a "business thinking salad." Hopefully, it's good and you don't spend your time picking out the metaphorical red onions.
The first two headings are about personal/family stuff... along with some blog direction. Feel to skip them if they are not your thing. I, personally, love to learn more about the people behind the blogs I follow.
My 3 year old has his first day of camp today. This ends a 10-week string where I was a stay-at-home dad. As Retire By 40 put it, "Any stay at home parent wants a little more time to do what they want. RB40Jr was out of school for two weeks and it was rough... By the end of the two week break, I was getting easily irritable and I didn’t like that."
I don't know how other stay at home parents do it, but I'm guessing they aren't trying to balance 3 other businesses and most of the household chores as well.
The grandparents chipped in with a several days of help, but it was often 2-3 days of overnights. The needle moved sharply in the other direction and I missed him. It's almost like starving a person for weeks and then giving them all-you-can-eat lard. There's no balance... it is simply not healthy.
All the time, there was a looming feeling of Cat's Cradle (Chapin, not Vonnegut)... I'm sure I'll want to have all this time back with him in a few years.
Expect action on this blog to pick up. I'm going to start by looking for a new writer (my old one got a new job). If you think you're a good fit reach out to me here.
Father's Day and the 2-year old Competitive Eating Champion
I had a great Father's Day... two of them actually. My wife took me and the kids out for lunch... the best BBQ in town (there's not much competition). The 2-year old slept through it, so he had lunch when we got home. Three hours later, we all went out again for my father-in-law's celebration. Because I had just eaten, I ordered the cheapest thing on the menu, a half-pound burger, to split with the 2-year old. (The 3-year old had fallen asleep this time.)
When the burger arrived, I almost got sick as it was so big and I was still so full. Fortunately, my 2-year old is the next Joey Chestnut as he ate 90% of the burger, not to mention quite a few chips and fries. The running joke for the next couple of hours was, "So how was your burger?"
Enough family stuff... let's move on to the business ideas.
Ever Wonder? Is This Business Idea Any Good?
I wonder that all the time. In fact, I'm often so paralized by the question that I can't move forward. Well, I may have found the answer.
Pat Flynn had his Will it Fly book on Kindle available for 99 cents this weekend. That price is no longer available as I write this, but there's arguably a better deal.
The Audible book is still $1.99. (I hope that's still the case as you read this as it seems an oversight.)
Good Marketing, Bad Marketing, and False Marketing
I'm often annoyed by marketing. I can understand a company explaining why people should their products. That's good marketing. Sometimes the companies use misleading information and a bunch of psychological tricks. This morning I was reading Root of Good's article on focus groups and some examples of these were brought up. I considering this bad marketing.
There's sometimes a very thin line between the two.
Then there's simply false marketing. There are probably at least 20 marketing statements I hear a day where I think, "That can't be right." When I have the time to look into them, I find that 90% they simply aren't right.
To give you an example of what I mean, I watched John Oliver on Brexit (warning: very adult language) this morning. He pointed out a commercial that appears to have blatantly lied, stating that there are 109 European Union regulations to making a pillow. He shows that's simply not true.
This stuff probably seems like common sense, but it's odd that the first two articles I read today had significant mentions of bad and false marketing.
Should You Get an MBA?
I looked into this question over a decade ago. The more I looked into it, the more it seemed that the value was mostly in networking with others, not the education itself. I feel like you can get much of the education through books like The Personal MBA.
It was kind of gut feel from all my reading, but there was never one specific thing that I felt I could point to. This weekend I found an article on The Atlantic that is the closest thing to it: The Management Myth. The article should open your eyes about how weird "management" is.
Sometimes my wife brings up the idea of getting an MBA to pair with her pharmacy degree. I cringe a little bit, because it doesn't feel like the time/money investment is worth it.
Back in early March, I started a new blog, but I wasn't willing to reveal what it was, mostly because it looked like crap. Instead, I wrote about in vague terms and created a series on starting a blog.
Two months later... it still looks like crap.
It's been difficult to find time to write with my new role as a stay-at-home Dad in addition to running a scorching-hot dog sitting business.
Now that I've set the expectations ridiculously low, I can start to build it up a little bit. I've written 20 articles in about 2 months, which isn't too bad considering I lost a few weeks to a vacation and catch-up.
This is all to say that I've been a big fan of the technology for a long time. You might wonder what makes the product and service different and worth blogging about. After all, Google has Google Now, Apple has Siri, and Microsoft has Cortana. The difference is that the Echo is always-listening and hands-free.
I simple call out, "Alexa, play Jack Johnson" and music plays. I don't have to press a button, navigate to an app, type any words, or anything. It's rare technology that simply works and reduces complication.
It's easy to view it as just a music player, but I use the Dot in my bedroom as an alarm clock by telling Alexa to set an alarm. I can control my Nest thermostats in my house by talking to it. My wife can play Jeopardy by talking to it. I can get my daily calendar and news by asking it. I can have it read me Audible books. Maybe none of this knocks your socks off, but collectively, it's pretty impressive, especially since there are no subscription fees. (An Amazon Prime account is very useful for the music, but we pay for that to get the fast, free shipping and access to the Prime video library anyway.)
Why Start Alexa/Echo?
If you haven't guessed it by now, I'm a fan. That's most important. Many people say follow your passion, but that's just one ingredient in the "cake of success." It's an important ingredient.
When I started the blog, Amazon had just announced the Echo Dot and Amazon Tap products. This release of new products in the family kicked off a bunch of media coverage and I started to realize exactly how big of a deal it is.
A newsletter that I subscribe to, Noah Kagen of OkDork and AppSumo fame, suggested that there were no good Amazon Echo blogs out there. (There are actually a couple.) He presented a very brief business plan on how such a blog could make some decent money. I think it was a little optimistic, but for a back-of-the-napkin calculation, it wasn't bad.
So I went to look for a domain name. The first few dozen searches I made didn't come up with any of preferred domains like EchoBlog.com. I don't know why it took me so many searches, but I finally found AlexaEcho.com the two things that I wanted to focus on. My guess is that most people just use the Echo hardware and never really think about the Alexa software service that powers it.
I'm not one to believe in fate, but the domain's availability surely seemed like a sign.
Why Tell You About Alexa/Echo Today?
I realized that I'm probably not going to make any headway on the design any time soon. (Unless there is a good WordPress designer out there who can work with the Splash theme. Feel free to contact me).
Yesterday, Google announced that it is making a copycat product called Google Home. I'd say that this validates the space, but some people are predicting that Amazon's Echo could be their billion dollar business. I might as well piggyback on the news.
He's been blogging since August of 2008, which is a long, long time in blogging years. There's a great reflection on his post:
"Did I meet my goal of Millions? In a simple word, No. Am I close? Nope. Do I have a tremendous more money than when I started this blog? ABSOLUTELY. Hell, when I started this blog I had a negative net worth fresh out of law school, and since I started to actually track that number in 2011 I am up 200%+. I have a long journey to go but this blog gave me the accountability I needed to use as a foundation. I know it is silly but the very exercise of just adding up your assets and liabilities on a monthly basis forces you to make different decisions."
Sometimes when you pursue a goal, even if you don't accomplish it, you end up winning. And Evan clearly did here.
While this article is about saying goodbye, let's end on a happy note... Evan will continue blogging at BuildingIncome.Investments. And while I don't know how I feel about that URL, I know I'll be following him on his new journey there.
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