Reviewing My Monthly Income Challenge (October 2016 Edition)

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Several 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.

We're now 4 or 5 months in and few took to the challenge. I feel that it is 100% my fault. I need to get my new website design with fewer ads up and I need to jump into a time machine and do it a couple of years ago. I've dropped the ball as non-Lazy Man and Money "stuff" takes up 80% of my waking hours.

I did enjoy the story of a reader who commented about how he makes money with Magic, The Gathering on the side. It's certainly not typical.

Let's battle through this and move forward. I've been making income through websites, freelance work, and gig economy stuff (dog sitting mostly) for years now, so it is a little easier for me to make extra money on the side. If you worked a long day as a salaried employee to come home to a family it would be difficult to say, "Oh, just drive an Uber for a few hours." Maybe being an Uber driver works in your situation. Maybe it doesn't. The idea is to explore what you can do on the side to earn some money. My wife sells a lot of our discarded stuff on Ebay. That's a great way to earn a few extra bucks... and it is environmentally friendly.

(All this said, I don't know if anyone has an easy path to make extra money. I feel like they already would, right? It's especially difficult to grow this kind of income. While I'm not salaried, I've got a 2 and a 4 year old, our real estate “empire”, and frivilous lawsuits to work on... all before I consider working on Lazy Man and Money or dog sitting... my two main sources of income)

Each month, I try to 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 to that let's review last month's results:

Last Month's Monthly Income Challenge

The Month's Good

September was one of my biggest month's with dog sitting. It was second to July. I attribute it to the holidays: Labor Day and the Fourth of July. However, October topped them all... significantly. I'm going to call it the "Red/Bear" effect. A family who rescues racing greyhounds went on vacation and trusted our family with their care.

It was eye-opening to see Red, who is around 7 years old, hobble like he's 15. He had flashes of play where he could hold his own with the younger dogs. It's one thing to read about racing greyhounds, but another to experience it.

Sorry for the downer, but let me make up to you with the "Bear" story. One morning I woke up to this email at 8:30AM (I've edited it some to protect the dog owner's privacy):

Hi. My name is [redacted] I am a Naval Officer at [redacted] and our dog sitter bailed on us at last minute. We are leaving for Germany at 1030 and have two dachshund/chihuahua mix dogs. They are pee pad trained but will go out side and use the bathroom if taken. I can provide the pee pads and the dog food that we have at the house. Trying to see if you could help us out. I will be back from Germany on the 31st in the evening.

We've never accepted dogs this small. Our fence has spaces in it and we like to give the bigger dogs freedom to roam in the yard.

I showed my wife the request and she nodded saying only, "Take them. We'll figure it out." I've always had the River Tam view when it comes to the military, "You've always taken care of me. My turn."

With the clock ticking to their flight I called the owner and said we'd be happy to help in any way we can. He brought the two dogs by and went on his flight. We've had 80+ different dogs at our house and I've never seen two dogs more afraid. I don't think they left their crate for the first 8 hours. In the next 8 hours, they ventured out to hide under a table. After the first day, they were burrowing under my blanket to sit in my lap or sleep with me at night. It was a complete 180. A month later my 4 year old still asks if "the peanuts" are coming back. My affectionate name for them stuck.

I realize that this may seem exploitative. I was at the local animal hospital recently and talked with a technician who was curious about my dog sitting. She asked my rates and said, "My rate is nearly twice yours. Maybe you make it up volume?" I flashed to one of my favorite movies, "Say Anything" and Jim Courts line, "Taking care of people isn't a growth enterprise, Mr Sims. I hope you write that down in your report, I'd like your bosses to read it." (Unfortunately, Jim wasn't on the level, but I am.)

I think I do make it up in "volume"... but dogs are not "volume." They are on the mental level of a 2 year old child (at least) and I believe they should be treated the same way.

Sorry, that got a WAY off-track from a typical income challenge report. To get us back on track, these events and others added up to a record-breaking dog sitting month.

Turning the attention to blog income, it got a strong rebound. I can't say that I did much to earn it... I just do my best to write the best content I can. I have a bit of a Superman complex about it. If you like what I write, the best way to tell you do is to leave a comment.

My focus is on writing things you want to read (and comment on) and getting the new design live.

The Month's Bad

Things went so well in October, I'll fabricate something bad. Blog income wasn't as high as I'd like it to be or as high as it was earlier this year. It's a work in progress, but as I mentioned in the last report, "When you lose 70% of your time, it's normal to have an adjustment period, right?"

The Month's Results

Last month, I wrote, "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that the 'bad' was much, much longer than the 'good.'

This month the opposite is true. The Ying has Yanged.

In monetary terms that translated to a gain of a shade more than 10% for the month. Those gains are after a big loss though, so it perspective/relativity is important to factor in.

I need to put this into a graph. I'll push that until next month, because otherwise, I'll never get this published. November is almost over and I'm scrambling to catch up on October. That should speak volumes.

This Month's Monthly Income Challenge Plan

I wave the white flag. I have a bunch of plans, but I never know what world event is going to deep-six them... #Honesty. November is waning and it doesn't have too many non-holiday days in it.

I'll focus on getting the new design live. It will likely spill into December. We'll tackle it then.

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.

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Posted on November 21, 2016.

We All Live in a Bubble

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I started writing today's article in July. (I have roughly two hundred drafts on the virtual cutting room floor.)

I was catching up with a friend and that one sentence really caught my attention. It's something that I've always known to be true, but it has been pushed far into the back of my mind.

"We unfortunately (well fortunately) live in a bubble."

I believe the discussion was about my efforts to warn people about MLM scams. This particular group of friends is highly educated and they hold very-high paying jobs. They are lawyers, doctors, software management, and economists. As a blogger, I'm an outlier, but if you consider me a former software engineer who is now a business owner, it makes sense.

If you think about what bubble looks like for a minute, it is a fortunate one.

However, there was the original focus of that sentence. It's unfortunate that bubbles exist.

Not all bubbles are fortunate ones. That's why I've been covering news stories about how many Americans can’t afford $400 in an emergency. It's why I tell people to get Use Digit to save for the holidays now!

There are a lot of people who can fall for MLM scams that have the 'trappings' of legitimacy in John Oliver's words. The MLMs often focus on people who are in more unfortunate bubbles, economically speaking. It's difficult to get a lawyer to join an MLM scam, unless they do in a professional capacity... not a recruiting salespeople one.

Around the same time my friend said this, Mischa Barton received a lot of public backlash for the following posting on social media:

Mischa Barton's Bubble

I think there's probably a place in Barton's bubble where that makes sense. Unfortunately, most people don't live in her bubble. It's pretty easy to criticize her and say, "If you've got all this spare time to drink your wine on your yacht, maybe you should be the one 'making change'."

That's an extreme example... and Barton's apologized. I don't want to make the post about Barton, but to emphasize what we already know, there are a variety of bubbles around.

My audience for this blog is almost entirely based in the United States. Many of the people living here are in a bubble themselves. There's freedom of speech (except for me it seems). We have water instantly (outside of Flint), as opposed to Millions Of Women Take A Long Walk With A 40-Pound Water Can.

I can read about that bubble, but in a couple of hours I'll probably have moved on. It is too far from my bubble. The bubble will become a distant memory in a couple of months. (Indeed, as I'm reviewing this article 4 months later it is a distant memory.)

Much of America lives in a different bubble than me

I have driven across the country and in my travels got to meet some people who are different bubbles. However, it's been a few years now. If I'm ever going to have help people with MLM scams, I need to do a better job of understanding the people in that bubble and bubbles in general.

Today, we self-select our news. We used to get one or two local newspapers. If you lived in New York City, you wouldn't get the same news as a farm in Indiana. Maybe, we should read some other news.

Our social media friends reflect our bubble. Our Next Life wrote about this echo chamber yesterday. It's a great article and you should read it.

I'm not sure if there are too absolutes when comes to bubbles. One thing I'd suggest though, is try to work with another bubble and see what you can learn. You might be surprised that people are very willing to explain their view to you if you stop and listen.

I want to leave you with one final thought. This article is about different perceptions of MLM scams. It is related to anything that may be happening in the world of politics. If you suggest otherwise, you are going to get "Seattle'd":

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Posted on November 9, 2016.

10 Ways Frugal Living Prepares You for an Emergency

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[Editor's Note: The following is a guest post by Carmela Tyrell. After she introduced her site to me, I asked if she'd be willing to write a guest post and here it is! (Obviously!) Carmela is an experienced prepper that enjoys spending time working in her garden and exploring new ways to generate off-grid electricity and water for her family's home. She prides herself in working hard to cut reliance on all things "municipal" and transition to a more self-sustainable living. She is also very knowledgeable about herbal remedies, surviving a nuclear disaster and bugging in. You can read more of Carmela's work on Survivor’s Fortress.]

As someone dedicated to both frugal living and prepping for short and long term disasters, I can tell you that it is possible to achieve both goals. In fact, my experiences lead me to conclude that frugal living is one of the most important things you can do to be ready for any emergency. Sadly, I've seen more than a few of my fellow penny pinchers run to the stores to buy all sorts of useless stuff before an emergency hits because they completely lose sight of what frugal living has already made available to them. Have a look at how your frugal lifestyle may make surviving an emergency easier (and less expensive) than expected.

Your Priorities Will Always Be Clear

I don't know about you, but when I'm focused on saving money for a new computer or paying down a debt, Kim Kardashian's antics are the last thing on my mind. When you have a set of priorities, few things can steal your valuable attention and cause you to waste energy and money on less important matters.

From Frugal Guru to Survivalist: The ability to remain focused on tangible objectives is also very important in an emergency. No matter whether it takes hours to prepare potable drinking water or days to reach a safe location, keeping to your financial priorities is an excellent practice that will translate to other situations even if no money is involved.

Your Goals Will be Tangible and Practical

If you are as frugal as I am, there is also a very good chance that everything you buy must:

  • be something you can use to make more money than you spend on it
  • have a tangible purpose that advances some basic necessity of life
  • be cheaper to operate and last longer than comparable items on the market
  • must be on sale, or marked well below the average cost.
  • Must never make you get that naggy feeling that you are spending too much.

From Frugal Guru to Survivalist: During an emergency, the most important thing you can do is start off by understanding what must be done and what isn't as essential. When you are careful with your money, then it is very easy to measure everything you do in terms of what will best advance your goals as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Become Immune to Marketing Ploys Many people are surprised when I reveal that I have a smartphone that cost well under $200.00, yet it has a better camera, a faster processor, and overall better performance than some of the most expensive phones on the market. Now, frugal living isn't always about choosing an "off brand", nor is it about doing without things that are important for achieving your goals. It is, however, about taking the time to shop around and actually have clear ideas about similar products that are available. Why buy a "premier" smartphone scandalized by exploding batteries or an expensive cell phone plan when the most frugal among you already know that:

  • there are unlocked phones with stellar features and safety ratings
  • a phone with WIFI can work right off your home router, or a public hotspot for calling, texting and getting online without spending an extra dime on a cell phone plan.

From Frugal Guru to Survivalist: Frugal minded people that also want to be ready for any emergency must also always keep in mind that a fool and his/her money are soon parted. You can prepare for most emergencies with relatively cheap, multi-purpose items if you do your research carefully and learn how to master some basic skills. Remember, there is a world of difference between the hype used to sell the newest model knife and your ability to actually use it to build a shelter. When pressed to prepare for an emergency, your frugal mindset can keep you focused on what you need as opposed to what a marketing specialist wants to sell you.

Practical Improvisation Saves Money

Being frugal doesn't mean you must put up with dirty clothes because the washing machine died or your home must be a mess because furniture
and home care products are so expensive. On the other hand, you don't need to spend $10.00 or more on the Laundromat when you can make a reusable bucket washer (complete with wringer) for a fraction of the cost. By the same token, many frugal people are well acquainted with making soap from scratch as well as many other things required for daily living. If you rarely go to the store for routine living needs, then rest assured you already have a number of valuable skills that will help you get through a number of emergencies.

From Frugal Guru to Survivalist: Now, if you still buy soap, food, and other “necessities”, this is a perfectly good time to learn how to make your own goods, grow your own food, and collect your own water. Aside from being fun, you will be taking your frugal lifestyle to a whole new level and be ready for both large and small scale disasters.

Practice Using Time Wisely When I tell people that it only takes a few hours to make enough soap for one year, they laugh because they think it is wasted time. These very same people never mention the fact that the average trip to the supermarket takes well over an hour between getting there, shopping, standing in line, getting home, and unpacking. Even if you only buy soap products once a month, you will spend a minimum of 12 hours on this task, plus you will spend well over $1,000 dollars a year just on dish detergent, bar soap, laundry soap, and shampoo. Compare that to my measly afternoon making soap and around $70.00 in cost for a year's worth of the above mentioned soap types.

From Frugal Guru to Survivalist: Time is incredibly valuable regardless of the situation. Invariably, when you spend your money carefully and know how to make do with what you have, you will also find that your time is also spent wisely. Perhaps if you don't have enough time to pursue a cherished hobby, you should try making soap as a starting point for saving money, saving time, and also being ready for any emergency.

Useless Clutter Will Never be an Issue

To be honest, when I visit my friends and family members, I can always tell which ones are sensible, frugal people and which ones are “wannabes”. Nothing says “wannabe penny pincher” like a spotlessly clean house filled to the gills with knick knacks and other assorted … well… to my eye... junk. People that are legitimately frugal and know how to manage their money don't need to be surrounded by useless stuff. Rather, when you walk into their home, you will see clean rooms free of clutter.

From Frugal Guru to Survivalist: There is always plenty of counter space for cooking, canning, or making all kinds of daily living needs. A frugal survivalist is likely to have old, but well-maintained tools and equipment and there will be plenty of signs that everything has a purpose and a place. When you can only take one bag of items along with you to a place of safety, being able to pick the most important items is truly critical. Practice this skill by decluttering your own home.

Fewer Pieces to Pick Up Makes Rebuilding Easier

Some of the most frugal people I know can literally pack their belongings in a matter of minutes and be ready to move hundreds of miles with very little difficulty. These people know exactly what is important and they never worry about what they left behind. Not only have these people saved thousands of dollars over the years, starting over in a new location is much easier.

From Frugal Guru to Survivalist: In an emergency, the less you have around that can be broken or ruined, the easier it will be to move on and make a new life for yourself. In fact, if you put the money away that you would squander on things that are likely to be lost or ruined in a hurricane or other disaster, you will be amazed at how much easier it will be to start over if needed.

 

You Will Focus More on People Instead of Useless Junk

One of the things I love most about frugal living is the strong connections with friends and family members that legitimately care. When you live a frugal lifestyle, you aren't tempted to base your associations on outdoing each other in the spending department. There is truly more joy and tangible satisfaction in spending an afternoon fishing or helping with a building raising than spending a small fortune on a new evening dress so that everyone will be jealous.

From Frugal Guru to Survivalist: Never forget that possessions are possessions. They can do nothing without you. On the other hand, good friends that aren't bound by money can work together to meet any emergency and come out ahead of the situation.

Less Debt Equals More Options to Succeed

To be fair, far too many people (including frugal ones) wind up using credit cards to make it from one paycheck to the next. Chances are, you may also be in search of ways to save money because you have a mortgage, car loan, and other debts to pay off. Now, as in any emergency situation, the less you owe, the better off you will be.

From Frugal Guru to Survivalist: Even something as simple as cooking your own meals in bulk can reduce your debt and make it easier to manage an emergency. The options are truly endless and span every area of daily living.

Gives You a Chance to Save for a Rainy Day

Within a very short period of time, frugal living can lead to saving money. Even though money will become useless at some point in both large and small-scale emergencies, having some extra on hand is never a bad idea.

From Frugal Guru to Survivalist: Expand your savings methods to include foreign or alternative currency options. Make sure that you know when it is best to use barter and when it is best to use cash.

Are you surprised at how similar frugal living is to prepping for emergencies? If so, you may not have realized that some of your most prized money saving habits translate directly to skills needed to manage an emergency. Please feel free to share in the comments below about some of your frugal living methods and how you think they can be translated into meeting emergency situations more easily.

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Posted on October 20, 2016.

Dobot: Automated Saving for Goals

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Every year, I get thousands of marketing pitches in my inbox. I often find that there are fewer than 10 are worth my time to readers. It almost makes me want to shutdown my email completely.

Today, I'm bringing you one of those 10 pitches that makes it all seem worth it: Dobot (pronounced: "dough bot", get it?)

What is Dobot?

Dobot is a FREE financial application that squirrels away small amounts of money from your bank account into a separate saving place. The idea is that you won't notice the money being taken out and that you won't spend money that isn't there. Sounds like a great unique idea...

... wait? You've heard this before?

Yes, that's essentially the same description of Digit, which I've been recommending for the last 18 months. Just two weeks ago, I wrote about how one can use Digit in the same way to save for the holidays now.

If Dobot were an exact copycat, I wouldn't be writing this article. We already have a 5-letter savings account squirreller that begins with "D."

So what makes Dobot different than Digit?

Let's review briefly what Digit is. Digit allows people to save money into one pool. It continuously saves money, a little each day. I've been using it for building a general emergency fund. I have had enough emergencies (new car brakes immediately come to mind) that keep it from growing too far out of control.

Dobot helps people to save with the idea of a specific goal in mind. You can have multiple goals and hence pools. You enter a goal, how much it costs, and when you'd like to reach it. Here's a 90-second video overview:

Getting Started With Dobot in Less than 5 Minutes

Earlier today, I signed up for Dobot to get an idea of how it works in practice. It took one click from the Dobot website to get the Android app (there's an Apple one too) installed on my phone. When I ran the application, I simply created an account by adding my my email address, my phone number, and a password. I then choose my financial institution, logged in, and picked my bank account. (Let's put the question of security aside. We'll get back to it in a bit.)

I've written before that I've been saving money for this very extremely expensive television.

I created a simple goal, "OLED 65", "November 2017", "$2500." The most difficult part was trying to figure out what the cost of the television will be when I think it is a good value to buy. I'm not sure if the good value is $2500 as I like to find a rare bargain. I took that there might be a Black Friday deal next year with that rare bargain.

Here's Dobot's example of how a typical goal might look:

Dobot helps you save money

While I just signed up, my understanding is that each week some money is put aside towards the goal. Since my goal is about 55 weeks away, I imagine that it will save around $45 a week, which would give me around $2500 by my target date.

Dobot allows you to add a picture for motivation. Unfortunately, it wouldn't let me bring in pictures from Pinterest or Amazon. I had to already have them on my phone. So I took a picture of my current Wal-Mart brand budget television that I want to upgrade from.

Dobot is a very visual application, which is very different than Digit which works best by text message.

In the coming days I will look to add some minor and major upgrades around the house.

I see Dobot as a great budgeting tool. Some banks allow you to create sub-accounts for the same kinds of savings goals. Unfortunately, USAA required me to create a separate savings account for my OLED TV. It wasn't a huge pain for one thing, but I certainly wouldn't want to manage 20 accounts via USAA's website.

The downside of all this is that you aren't going to earn interest. Some people may be upset with that. I see it as a non-issue given today's extremely low interest rates. If I was getting 3-4% in my savings account, it would be a different conversation.

Is Dobot Secure?

Dobot is FDIC insured which is always something to look for. They say that they use bank-level security. That's not overly convincing in and of itself. However, I know that these applications typically use the same bank-end banking engine like Yodlee. So many applications use this that the real risk is probably at Yodlee. I've been using these types of applications since 2006 and I've never heard of a hack. It might be more likely that your bank gets hacked.

Get (a little) Free Money

If you sign up from this link on the Dobot website, install the app, and add a bank account, they'll fund it with $5. It isn't a ton of money, but what did you expect in spending a few minutes to sign up for a free helpful, budgeting service?

I'm not sure that you need both. Some people don't even need one. However, I can see why people would use each of them. I'll continue to use both, because I love to automate my money. Over the years, I've learned that the more forced savings I have, the more my net worth increases.

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Last updated on October 17, 2016.

A Few Things that I Think I Think

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That title is completely stolen from one of my favorite sports writers, Peter King. I haven't done one of these in a long, long time. I blame Twitter for making it so easy to write very short thoughts such as these without having to put them in an article. However, I don't blame Twitter too much since I'm a shareholder. Also, these are a little longer than 140 characters.

  • I'm embarrassed that I wasn't able to publish a post yesterday... or Friday. While I may not be a Bostonian any more, I've spent a vast majority of my life in the suburbs (and I'm not far from the city). I should have written something about the Boston Marathon bombing such as this article. I will never forget the conflicting feeling of my oldest son first focusing on TV only to see the tragedy discussed.
  • I'm resurrecting this writing construct because I'm so busy. I'm all about full disclosure.
  • When I started dog sitting, I thought it would be a tiny thing that would make a hundred dollars a month. At most, I thought it could cover some utility bills. I was wrong... it appears to cover our utilities AND both our car payments. For some it might actually cover a mortgage payment.
  • My wife calls me the Walter White of dog sitting. I think she means two things. First, I provide a superior value (in my case, service rather than product) to my clients. Second, that value seems to have cornered the local market. I hope she doesn't expect millions in a storage locker.
  • Dog sitting is far from easy. It works for me, but it might not work for you.
  • I'd like to add Blaze and the Monster Machines from Nick Jr. to my article The Best Educational Streaming Shows for Preschoolers. Maybe not, since it isn't streaming, but it is one of my top educational recommendations. This week my son learned about adhesion.
  • I'm "worried" that my 2 and 3 year old sons are already smarter than I am. I put worried in quotes because it is a "first world problem." The younger was putting together a 24-piece Blaze puzzle (thanks local dollar store) and he found pieces and placed them when I thought they didn't belong. (In hindsight this might say more about me.)

    I've written about how my oldest challenges me in the past. He's a September baby, which means that he'll always be the oldest in his class.

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Last updated on April 20, 2016.

5 Statements Your Significant Other Makes About Money that Should Raise a Red Flag

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According to a study published in the Journal of Family and Economic Issues, feeling like your partner spent money foolishly increased the likelihood of divorce 45% for both men and women.

But talking about money is touchy -- especially in relationships -- because when you talk about a person's money, you are also talking about his power, control, and freedom. But before you begin a life with someone, those uncomfortable conversations about money are paramount. If you do not understand each other's attitudes toward spending and saving, you can risk losing power, control, and freedom over your own life. Because, ultimately, the way your partner treats money can affect you both long-term.
While I encourage you to talk about finances regardless, here are five statements (and behaviors) that are cause for a talk:

1. "Everyone has debt. It's not a big deal. I'll eventually pay it off." (But makes no plan to do so.)

Someone who continually accrues debt and feels no sense of urgency or responsibility to pay it off may not know how to handle money responsibly. As you likely know, the more debt you have, the more money it costs you over time -- that's the way interest on loans work. So, if your partner is unconcerned with his or her debt and continues to dig deeper into the negatives without making any effort or plan to pay it down, could lead you to bankruptcy. And should you marry, any unpaid debts or bad credit will taint your own perfectly stellar credit line just by being attached.

2. "I work hard, so I deserve to buy [enter expensive item]."

Lifestyle inflation and feelings of entitlement can be kryptonite -- they'll blow your very rational, reasonable budget every time. And in a relationship, there are few feelings that are worse than working hard and skimping on luxuries of your own for the greater good of your combined future or financial freesom, only to find that your partner has spent the money on themselves. If one party continually violates a joint budget, it is likely to cause feelings of resentment.

3. "I don't have to invest much for retirement, because I'm great at picking stocks."

People who always look for shortcuts can be a red flag in many areas of life. But financial shortcuts, like picking stocks, are especially not something to bank on. Stocks are not a sure thing; old age is. If your parner has extra money to invest in stocks after other responsibilities are met, go for it, but not at the expense of a secure, steady retirement fund. Otherwise you'll see your own plans for retirement slip away.

4. "I need this pair of shoes because everyone has them and I don't want people to think I lack taste."

People who tie stuff to status -- e.g. the sort of people who buy nice cars so people think they are wealthy and meanwhile can't pay for their mortgage -- indicates something is askew not just with how they handle money but also about their values. In this case, actions speak louder than words: when someone spends their limited resources on flashy material gains, it says to me that they lack confidence and are trying to buy happiness. If you do not share that outlook and your partner does, it will likely take a toll on your own happiness and on your bank account.

5. People who make no statements about their finances at all (i.e. People who aren't up front).

Communication is key in resolving money issues. Being unwilling to talk and be honest with your partner about your financial history indicates a lack of understanding and respect that permeates beyond finances.

I understand that it can be hard to discuss your staggering student debt or a previous credit card mishap, but everyone makes mistakes and most financial problems can be resolved with time and willpower. In the end, none of these things have to be deal breakers. In fact, studies show that couples who made a plan and tackled their debt together remained happier with each other over the long-term.

Often times, an honest and open talk where you hear one another out can rectify any red flags.

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Posted on March 24, 2016.

Five Reasons Side Gigs Aren’t Just for Freelancers

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According to a CareerBuilder.com survey, in recent years, 20 percent of full-time workers have picked up a second job. Since the economic crisis in 2008, more and more people are seeking side income to avoid falling at the mercy of corporate layoffs. Today, diversifying your income is a good idea even if you do have a full time salary that covers your needs. From greater financial security to a more rounded resume, here are five ways locking down an extra source of cash can go a long way.

1. You’ll build greater financial security

A second study by CareerBuilder.com found that 42 percent of full-time workers usually or always live paycheck to paycheck just to make ends meet, making it difficult to save for the future let alone enjoy the present. Whether you turn your spare room into a B&B or you start a dog sitting business on weekends, earning extra cash off of assets you already have will lift the weight of worrying about every dollar spent and help you save responsibly for your future.

[Editor's Note: I can give you a ton of information on dog sitting having hosted nearly 150 "dog days" (number of dogs times the number of days.]

2. You’ll be more marketable

Building a career is, in essence, incumbent upon the ability to hone a skill that makes you valuable and hopefully indispensable to an employer. Therefore, the more new skills you acquire, the more opportunities you have to be indispensable. And the easiest and most economical way to acquire a new skill is to learn it on the job.

By diving deeper into skills you already have — like learning to use new data analytics software — for a side job, you will be better apt to get a new job (if you are looking) or to bring more to the table at your primary job, which could earn you a promotion. Plus, the balancing act that comes with working multiple gigs will help you prioritize and manage your time better.

3. You’ll save more

People are more likely to save a tax refund than they are to save that same amount of money when they’ve earned it in smaller increments throughout the year’s worth of paychecks. Similarly, money from a side gig — because it’s separate from your standard paycheck — has a better chance at finding its way into retirement savings or other investments. You might find that having a steady stream of income separate from your paycheck helps you to better compartmentalize and commit to your saving strategy or debt pay off.

4. You'll build a better professional network

Getting a freelance writing gig in addition to my full time job ultimately primed me for more writing opportunities, which enabled me to form a full-time freelance career. By maintaining several side jobs at once, I was able to multiply the number of good professional references and contacts in a shorter period of time. Furthermore, many companies like to test out employees on a part-time or freelance basis to make sure they are a good fit before offering them a full-time job. Getting a side job with a company or organization you like or aspire to work at can be a good way to get a job there in the future.

5. You'll make friends and get free perks

A friend of mine wanted to get her yoga teacher training certification. Instead of shelling out $2,000 on a training program, she offered to work the front desk at the studio near her apartment, where she took classes several times a week, in exchange for the certification. I’ve known people who have gotten similar perks from working at running and surf shops as well. Working at a place where people share similar interests can also open you up to a broader network of people who share your interests — a great option if you move to a new city and are looking to make friends.

Overall, having a side gig puts you in better control over your finances. Whether you are saving up for retirement or for a big vacation, the odds are always more in your favor if you have several ways of getting there.

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Income Growth, Uncategorized

Posted on March 8, 2016.

We Bought Lottery Tickets… Here’s Why.

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Over the last few days, I've read a lot of articles about the lottery. I'm sure you've read your share of Powerball articles too, right?

I've learned that personal finance bloggers HATE the lottery. They say that "hate" is a strong word, but it seems applicable here.

powerball-logo

Here's a great article summing up the hate: The Deception of a Billion Dollar Jackpot. Here are two of my favorite quotes from that:

"You are 12 times more likely to die in a car crash while getting the ticket as you are to pick all six Powerball numbers. Skip the lottery, save $2, save your life."

and

"Are there alternatives to losing the lottery? Fortunately, there are. One alternative is to light $2 on fire (without burning down your house) and at least enjoy some light and warmth from the fleeting flame."

Let's review the basics

We all know we aren't really getting 1.5 billion. By taking the lump sum, you are going to be left with around 930 million.

Before I go any further, let's cover that lump sum choice. I was a big proponent of not taking the lump sum... and taking the money over 30 years instead. However, I saw that The Today Show a few day ago reported that if you die Powerball can weasel out paying the money to your estate. I'm seeing a lot of people source Powerball's official website that the annuity can be passed on on death. With such conflicting information, I'd suggest that winners consult their lawyers.

If Powerball has to pay out the annuity to the estate, then that's the way to go. I'll take $50M each year over 30 years. Even if it wasn't a huge jackpot like the current one, getting the money over 30 years solves a lot of problems. It prevents you from overspending. It gives you a fresh money start every year. You can keep all the moochers away by saying, "Hey, I only got to keep $25M after taxes." Maybe they'll forget next year.

If Powerball isn't paying the annuity on death, then the way to go is to take the 930 million right away. You'll probably be left with around $500 million after federal and state taxes. With some portion of that money, you're going to want to buy an annuity or something that guarantees that you'll never be broke. The idea here is hide money from yourself, so you don't blow it.

What does a Huge Jackpot Buy?

We know that winning the Powerball won't solve your problems.

Mark Cuban has some sound advice. Winning won't make happier unless you were happy already. Also tell your friends no to requests for money. In his words, "No one needs 100k for anything. Anyone who asks is not your friend."

Unfortunately, Cuban has some advice that I don't agree with: "You don’t become a smart investor when you win the lottery. Don’t make investments. You can put it in the bank and live comfortably. Forever. You will sleep a lot better knowing you won’t lose money."

With a huge jackpot like this, you can put 20% in the bank and live comfortably... forever. I would invest the majority of the money everywhere - stocks (domestic and foreign), bonds, REITs, commodities... etc. Honestly, I'll sleep best knowing that I have all the money I ever need in the bank and that if something should ever happen to that bank (it's beyond the FDIC insurance level) or the banking system, I've got a bunch of other things to fall back on.

But Why Did We Buy Lottery Tickets?

As the saying goes, "The lottery is a tax on those who are bad at math." I like to consider myself pretty good with math, so why would we choose to pay this tax?

I should explain that it is my wife who buys the tickets. If it were up to me, I wouldn't go out of my way. However, I'm using "we" here, because it comes from the family budget.

I'm not a supporter of the lottery, but my wife makes a great point. She explains it better than me, but her argument goes something like this:

"If you don't play your chances are 'goose egg.' You don't want to be 'goose egg.' Goose egg."

She has a great smile with the last "goose egg." I'm laughing at the way she says it, but I manage to make the point that I'd rather have an actual goose egg than a lottery ticket... as that is surely more valuable. (I can imagine Justin from Root of Good having all sorts of fun with goose eggs instead of lighting money on fire.)

It's that smile with last "goose egg" that makes it all worthwhile. We have a great laugh about goose eggs. Our annual budget is around $20-30 on the rare occasions that the jackpot gets really high.

By any math, a laugh over goose eggs is a lot better than arguing over such petty cash.

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Uncategorized

Posted on January 13, 2016.

Easy Ways to Cut Down on Gym Costs

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Starting a workout routine can be one of the best gifts we give ourselves. It improves our physical health and mental wellbeing. However, if you’re looking to join a gym or even take a few classes, you may be surprised at the cost. Between equipment, race bibs, subscriptions, drop-in fees, and memberships, being physical comes at a price. Fortunately, there are ways you can cut down on gym prices without missing a workout.

5 Ways to Cut Down on Gym Prices

Class-Hop

For those living in cities or larger towns, you are likely aware of social deals such as Groupon and LivingSocial, which offer discounts on activities and local goods. One of the most popular deals are for gyms and classes – especially when you buy in bulk.

While most of these only last a month, you can become a “class-hopper,” going where the deals take you. Each month, purchase another bulk deal on a gym membership or drop-in card as a new client. You’ll save 30-40% or more – a huge savings when you consider that gym and class memberships often cost $80 or more per month!

Save at Home

Gyms aren’t the only way to stay fit. If you don’t live near a workout facility or can’t get away, try internet workouts! YouTube, SparkPeople, and MyFitnessPal are all free sites that provide users with short workout videos or even home exercise lists that anyone can do without gym equipment.

That being said, you must be careful when trusting a YouTube or other popular video instructor. They may not be as qualified as you think. For peace of mind, consider investing in online programs that guarantee high-quality instructors that have been vetted. I personally love my monthly membership to an online yoga studio where I can learn from various teachers. Prices range from $15-25/month with unlimited sessions, which is significantly less than even one yoga class a week at my favorite studio!

Let Tech Take Over

Sometimes, the best workouts are the simplest ones. Staying active throughout the day can make a huge difference to your health and even assist you in losing weight. That is why one of the most popular fitness tech items out there is the FitBit. In the past, you would need to purchase a heart rate monitor, pedometer, food tracker, and more to make up what this one nifty device does. Even the older versions such as the Flex work great and are steals compared to the latest version!

But I really love the FitBit because it shows just how much I can do at home. It gives me encouragement to get up and move, and I never feel pressured to go to the gym to meet my goals. The option to workout and even compete against friends breaks me of the social need to attend a class.

Experiment With New Fads

From circus pilates to dodge ball leagues, fun new classes are popping up at gyms all over North America. The best part about them (besides being a ton of fun) is that they’re inexpensive! That is because, unlike Zumba or Barre, these classes are relatively untested or beloved. Teachers often put up trial classes to see what the interest level is before offering it to a wider audience. Take advantage of these testers to see if you like it enough to pay the full price and to get in a unique workout without the boutique prices you’d pay down the line.

Train With a Student

Personal training is a great investment on long term health, but training fees can be outrageous, especially if you want to work out with someone licensed or with great credentials. But all of those super star trainers and athletes had to start somewhere!

Many colleges and universities that offer degrees in athletic training, physical therapy, or exercise science need their students to have hands on learning experiences with their own students. Signing up to be a guinea pig doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck with a newbie as more than likely, you’ll get the help of not only the knowledgeable student, but also the professor with years of experience.

Your health doesn’t have to cost you a fortune. Instead of cutting down on your workouts, look for creative ways to get your sweat on without opening your wallet.

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... and focuses on:

Frugal, Health, Uncategorized

Posted on January 12, 2016.

Deal: Get PlayOn Plus (Lifetime!) for $40

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I'll keep this short... I've got a lot of writing to do today. I usually don't write articles to share deals (that's what my Twitter account is for), but I this is special deal that I wanted to specifically call out. It's too good to just let it slip off your timeline.

I've previously written about PlayOn Plus. You can read the review, but I think the title really says it all: PlayOn Plus Will Change How You Watch Television.

If you aren't familiar with PlayOn Plus it allows you to turn a Windows computer into a DVR recording just about anything that's streamable online. That's hundreds of channels including all the popular major networks. You can simply set up a subscription and tell it to tape all episodes of NCIS and they'll be there waiting. It even has an "skip advertising" option.

PlayOn

It doesn't just work with the networks. You can record Netflix, HBO Go, Amazon Video, Hulu and others. Perhaps the best feature is that you then have a file that you can bring anywhere. This means that my kids can watch Amazon's awesome Tumble Leaf or Go Diego Go! in the car on a long trip. I don't need to worry about having an internet connection and/or the cost of streaming data on my wireless plan.

And until the end of the year, you can get this for just $40... forever. It would be a great value at $10/mo., but the one-time low-fee is probably the best value in entertainment today and a must for any cable-cutter. I'm not even a cable-cutter and it is a great supplement to my cable's plan and DVR (though I'm trying to ween myself off of that).

The deal ends in 2016, so you should probably grab it now before you get busy with the rest of the holiday rush.

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Uncategorized

Posted on December 21, 2015.

 
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