No Job Is Below You

Northland Foods '70s Interior
When I was a teen I worked at a supermarket (I actually worked there a loong time).  One day I ran into a friend’s dad woo had his own butcher business.  We chatted and he asked me if I worked.  I sheepishly told him I worked at a supermarket like maybe I was a little ashamed.  With all seriousness he no, it’s not what you do but how you do it!  As long as you put your all into your job then that’s all that mattered.  This took me back.  One, because I didn’t expect such a serious answer from a casual acquaintance; and two, because it really struck a note with me.  He was right.  So long as I knew I was doing my best and putting everything into my work then I had no reason to be ashamed of what I did and every reason to be proud of myself.  I would go on to get many promotions at that supermarket and became a jack of all trades in the store.  I worked as cashier, stock, unloading the truck, head cashier, bookkeeper for the store to bookkeeper for the chain writing out expenses and doing payroll (told ya I worked there a long time).  I learned a lot from that supermarket job!  From time to time I have to remind myself of that conversation but I still try to take the point to heart and do what I do to the best of my ability.

On the other hand, I’ve seen people look down on some jobs as though they aren’t good enough for them.  Granted, if you have the skills and knowledge to do one thing then do it.  But I’m talking about folks who are hurting financially and continually complain that they hate what they do and can’t make ends meet.  They don’t have overly technical jobs that require a specific specialization.  But they talk like doing something “common” is no good for them.

If you recall my wife has been working a few hours on the weekend doing test prep at a private school.  She doesn’t get paid nearly what her qualifications should demand but the reality is we can use any extra cash we can get and she’s good at test prep.  Some years ago I used to help out with a friend’s entertainment business where I learned to DJ.  Many days were fun but many weekends were full of work!  A four hour party could easily turn into 6-8 hours of work with travel and carrying and setting up the equipment.  It was very different from the desk job I have but it was good money for weekend work (I might even try to jump back into it).

Know what? Those jobs until the wee hours of the morning paid off over time as they helped me afford my first car.  My wife’s test prep work helps with some extra cash to pay for groceries and such.  Some weeks we don’t have to dip into the ATM.

Point is, if you need the money no job is beneath you.  Hard work is hard work no matter what you do.  If it helps you make ends meet or put some extra cash in the bank that’s great!  Sitting back and complaining about how hard things are will not help you.  You need to go out there and do something about it.  Life isn’t always ideal and sometimes you have to eat some humble pie and do something you don’t want to.

So if you need some extra dough go out and do something about it. Don’t worry about what others might say about you, just concern yourself with whether you are doing your best!

What do you think?

Creative Commons License photo credit: afiler

What Is A Ponzi Scheme – In Simple Terms

With all of the talk about Bernie Madoff heading off to jail for a few years (a century or so) the thought on a lot of people’s minds is How did he do it? and What is a Ponzi scheme?

I came across the post Explaining the Ponzi Scheme to a Fifth Grader recently.  I think the explanation pretty much nails it! Here it is:

Say you went to your sister and told her, if she gives you a dollar to invest today, you will give it back to her on Tuesday next week and she will get $1.25. Then you go to your other sister and tell her the same thing only you will give her $1.25 Wednesday. Then you go on to your dad and every person you know and tell them the same thing. As you’re going around asking for money from other people you know, you give your first sister her $1.25 and she’s happy to have twenty five cents extra just for letting you invest her $1. So she says, why don’t you keep my dollar and invest it some more? So you say, OK.

But the thing is, you weren’t really investing it were you? You were just using other people’s money to make it look like you are earning money for them. Do you see how you will eventually run out of money especially if they all ask for their money at the same time?

So she answers, Yeah, but can’t I just ask more money from more people? Yeah, you can do that but what if you ran out of people to ask and also ran out of time? That’s what happened to Bernie Maddox and that’s why he’s going to jail.

She then said, but they said he still has millions of dollars and he’s not really in jail. True.

About $68 billion lost summed up pretty nice!

The are a couple of lessons in this:

Know what you are investing in AND There’s no such thing as a free lunch!

You have to know where your money is going.  If not then you are asking for trouble.  From what I’ve been hearing people were throwing their money at Madoff so he could invest it.  They didn’t care how he did it so long as they got back huge returns.  I feel horrible for those people who lost their retirements and for all of the charitable organizations that were hurt.  But you have to ask the big questions and in this case the questions is Where is the money going to get those returns?!?

It may not be fun learning about personal finance and investing but a little knowledge goes a long way.  Sure it’s fun to say you’re getting 15% every year on your investment but you have to questions how!

Am I being too harsh?

I don’t mean to be.  These people were swindled and hurt!  The whole situation bothers me.  It seems there’s no real accountability with Wall Street any more.  There were warnings going back a decade about Madoff’s “investments” that went ignored.

Here’s a little lighter side that I also picked up from AMoores (where I saw the simple Ponzi explanation):

How do you feel about it all?

 

Is Saving 8 to 12 Months Expenses Even Possible Or Practical?

savings bank

I recently brought up the question of whether we now need 8-12 months expenses saved rather than the old three to six months that used to be convention. I think in these economic times, where we are seeing unemployment hitting rates we haven’t seen in decades, that three to six months isn’t enough.

I received a lot of great comments on the article.  Many agreed that 8-12 months  expense savings is a good idea while others agreed that we need to re-evaluate how much we have saved but that 8-12 may be reaching.  Some questioned if it was even possible or practical.

A big question that comes up: How does a person save up 8-12 months of expenses?!?

Let me first say I know it’s tough saving even 3-6 months of expenses.  I wouldn’t be surprised if most families don’t have even 3 months expenses saved no less 8-12 (please prove me wrong!).  But with unemployment rising it’s something we all have to think about.

I think it can be done!

The sooner you can put together your expense savings the better.  But that doesn’t mean you have to do it right this minute.  Don’t stress out completely because you can’t cover a year’s worth of expenses right now.  But at the same time look at what you do have socked away and ask yourself if you could save more, even if it’s only a little bit.  Work your way up.  Do you have three months expenses saved up?  No?  Set that as your goal.  If you do have three months work your way to six months expenses.  Squirrel away until you reach your goal.  If you never need it then great but should you have to use it you will be happy for everything you could save.

But does it have to be 8-12 months saved?

You need to look at your own situation.  Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What will happen if I lose my job?
  • Realistically how long would it take to find a new job at the same salary?
  • How much more will I need if I have to take a pay-cut?
  • How long can I support myself while looking for work?
  • How has my industry been affected by the economy?  Are whole companies going out of business or is it growing?
  • How is your company doing?  Are they hiring or letting people go?
  • What is the likelihood that I could get laid off (tough one to answer but be honest with this one.  Most people think a company can’t do without them but in most cases they are probably wrong).
  • What savings do I already have?
  • What would I get in unemployment benefits?
  • Are there any other money sources you could tap if needed (Stocks, bonds)?
  • Would or could you work part-time until you find full-time work?

And here are some items to think about when figuring out your expenses:

  • What must get paid every month (mortgage, car payment, electricity, phone bill, water)?
  • What do you spend on food every month?
  • What will health care cost?
  • What costs will there be in finding a new job (transportation, resumes, dry cleaning, clothes, fax, phone calls).
  • What other expenses will you have (car maintenance, home maintenance)?
  • What do you actually spend every month?
  • What can you cut back should you lose your job (cable, eating out, vacations, etc…)?
  • How many mouths does your income support?

Be honest with yourself. You may find that you don’t need 8-12 expenses.  But you’ll be better served to save a bit more than a bit less.

What do you think?

Creative Commons License photo credit: TheTruthAbout…

Frugal Ideas To Help Your Home Sell

Robie House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright 1909

We recently put our home on the market to sell. Man, do we have a lot to do to get the place in ship shape!  We have been busy for the past couple of weeks doing what we could to make the place look more appealing to a potential buyer.  Living there for so long we didn’t realize how much stuff we had and how many little things could be fixed.  I’d be lying to say we weren’t concerned about getting a good price in today’s market!

Our goal is to make our home look as clean, big, and attractive as possible without breaking the bank!  Fortunately there are many things we can do to help achieve this.

These are inexpensive ideas to help sell your home:

  • Paint (@MoneyMatters) – We hired someone to paint most of the place for us.  It wasn’t that expensive and it’s made the place look so much bigger and brighter!  We used light, neutral colors that would be appealing to most (our prior colors were great but too dark for most people’s tastes).  This could be done yourself to save more.  We just didn’t have the time to do it ourselves (and we got a great deal on a local painter).
  • Replace Light Fixtures – We replaced our dining room, bathroom, and the bedroom’s light fixtures.  We bought them at Home Depot and they weren’t that expensive.  Combined with the new paint job, the apartment looks much bigger than before.  Add to that we used fluorescent lights so we can tell prospective buyers that the light costs will be lower.
  • Remove Clutter (@nomorespending)- We’ve already removed all of our CD’s and their shelves as well as our books and bookshelf.  It’s really opened up the place (I have a LOT of CD’s).  Remove, give away, put in storage whatever you can.  Get down to the bare minimums to make the place look as big as possible and let a buyer step in and imagine it as theirs.  This will also help you when you move as you will have less to box and bring with you.
  • Clean Carpets/Wax Floors (@thepassivedad) – Renting a machine for the day to clean your carpets can be inexpensive.  Same is true for a floor buffer.  There’s also less expensive cleaners you can use that may require more elbow grease but can be as effective.  If you’re able add no base board molding.  Basically give a buyer the thought that they don’t have to do any work on the floors if they don’t want to!
  • Landscaping (@misformoney)- If you have a garden or lawn space do what you can to spruce it up and make it lively!  New plants don’t have to be expensive and can make the front of your home look much more inviting!
  • Take Great Pictures (@pffirewall) – Your home will most likely be online somewhere for sale and you will need photos of it.  Make sure the photos are good quality taken at the time of the day the light is the best.  Wait until you have everything ready and use a good camera.  If you have a friend who’s a photography buff ask him to come over and take a few shots for you.  You want big and clean!  I’ve seen people post photos of cluttered rooms that make me instantly go to the next listing on the site.
  • Re-Grout Wall and Floor Tiles - This sounds like more work than it really is.  I’ve discovered it takes some elbow grease but doesn’t cost too much.  And new grout will make your tiles look almost new again.  Go ahead and take a close look at how dingy they may be…  I’ve been slowly re-working the tiles in our bathroom!
  • Replace Old Sinks, Cabinets, Faucets – You can go crazy replacing these items and spend thousands for sure.  But sometimes if yours are beat up and old an inexpensive replacement will look much better than what you have.  New usually equals clean and that helps a buyer!
  • Replace Outlet Covers and Light Switch Covers – Over the years these can get beat up and dirty.  But they cost little to replace.  Put these in after you have painted to keep them clean.
  • De-Personalize Your Home – Put away all of your photos and pictures.  You can leave a few up to display but you want a buyer to walk in and imagine the place as theirs.  Seeing your face all over doesn’t help that.  It also helps remove the clutter too!
  • Read Magazines/Watch TV (@nodebtplan)- No, I’m not saying you should sit around and be lazy.  What you can do is look at what homes look like in advertisements and shows.  There are also plenty of home shows on TV these days to give you ideas as well.  You can get a good idea of what a model home should look like.
  • We Need More Light! – When you are showing the home turn on the lights to make the place look bigger even if it’s during the day!
  • Bake Before a Showing – This one is a bit cliche but you would be amazed how well it works!  We had friends over and one was helping me install a new dining room light.  At the same time my wife happened to be baking a cake.  It smelled amazing and really made the place feel “home”-ey. (And really how much do those instant bake cookies cost?)
  • Build a Website – A friend mentioned that when he was selling his Manahttan apartment he put up a quick website with some pictures and contact forms. Six months hosting isn’t very expensive and a lot of hosting companies will give you a free domain name and web site kit.  He ended up selling the place himself!  You can also list your home on Craiglist.
  • Clean, Scrub, Sweep, Repeat – Clean like a madman.  Then go do it again.  Then ask a neighbor or friend to point out what still seems dingy and hit the cleaners again.  Make the place sparkle!  The cleaner the better.  A clean place tells a buyer that you take care of the home (and it makes it look great).
  • Empty Those Closets - As best you can clean out the closets.  Again, live with the bare minimum that you need and get those closets looking as big as possible.  Buyers will want to see how much of their stuff they can put in them not how much of yours!
  • Visit Other Homes In Your Area – Take an afernoon and go visit the open houses in your area.  See what their homes look like and what they offer and the price they ask.  If you see a similar place as yours take note; this is your competition and you want your place to look better!  Is it cleaner? Newer?  You may be surprised to find out it won’t take much to make your place look nicer.
  • Replace the Toilet Seat – Seriously!  People will notice that it’s sparkling clean which will get you big points.  Either they don’t need to get a new one themselves or they believe you keep things super-clean, you win.

Yes, it takes some work on your part to do these things. But if it will help you sell then it will more than pay off!!  A couple of years ago you might have had a bidding war for a home that wasn’t all done up.  But in today’s economy you have to put your best foot forward just to get the sale!  Don’t let something small keep a buyer from wanting your place.

Any other ideas?


Creative Commons License photo credit: mach3

How The American Recovery And Reinvesment Act Of 2009 Can Help You

Money Money

Last week President Obama signed into law the American Recovery And Reinvestment Bill, otherwise known as the 2009 Economic Stimulus. A big question in the minds of the average American is How can it help me?!?

Here are some ways the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 can help you:

  • Unemployment – In 2009 you will not have to pay pay taxes on the first $2400 in benefits you receive.
  • Social Security – Some social security recipients will receive a $250 refundable tax credit mailed to them within 120 days of the bill’s signing.
  • Pell Grant – The maximum benefit for Pell Grants will rise to $5,350 in 2009 and $5,550 in 2010.
  • More Liberal 529 Plan – In 2009 and 2010 students can withdraw money or computers and related technology such as educational software or internet service for students living at home.
  • Transportation Accounts – Your employers are able to increase transportation spending accounts up to $230 a month.  This is money you can have set aside from your paycheck tax free. (Check with your employer to see if they participate and raised their limits.)
  • New Car Buyer Tax Deduction – In 2009 you, if you purchase a new car you can deduct the state, local, and excise taxes off of your federal return.
  • Higher Tax Credit For Education – A credit of up to $2500 of college tuition and related expenses in 2009 and 2010.  You need to spend at least $4000 in the year for the credit and 40% is refundable (which means you can qualify for 40% if you don’t have taxable income).
  • First Time Home Buyer Credit - A first-time home buyer credit of 10% of the purchase price of the home up to $8,000 for homes bought in 2009.
  • Health Insurance Help for Laid Off Workers – If you were laid off between September 1, 2008 and December 31, 2009 the government will subsidize 65% of your COBRA premiums.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is going to be expensive for the country but at least people get to see some of it.

What do you think?  Is it enough for the average person?

Source: NY Times

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Excuse Busters For Not Having A Budget

Watch Over Your Money With A Budget

Yesterday I wrote about 9 common excuses why you don’t have a budget. Today I’m going to bust those excuses and show you why you need a budget.

Excuse Busters For Not Having A Budget:

  • You Don’t Want To Be Told What To Do – Really?  You don’t want something to tell you how to spend your money.  Well how do you like the bills you pay every month?  Or looking at your bank account and being told you don’t have funds to cover an expense?  Truth is, when you have an effective budget you are in control of your money and you can see what you are doing.  The only one doing the telling is you with a budget.
  • You Feel Constrained - Yes, a budget tells you how much money you may have for different expenses.  And you may not be able to spend indiscriminately.  But the truth is a budget can be liberating!  You know exactly what you can afford and you know where your money is going.  When you know your expenses you can re-allocate your spending to fit your needs and wants.  Without a budget it’s more like a high wire without a net.
  • You Can’t Do What you Want – Not the case.  A budget will tell you what you can afford.  With a good budget you can change your spending to allocate more money for things that are important to you.  You cut out the frivolous spending for things with more purpose.
  • Can’t Give up Your Ego And Admit You Need to Control Your Spending – Get over yourself and take a good look at the bills you have and the stress you go through every month to pay them.  Look at how quickly your paycheck disappears and how your bank account dwindles.  You want the best stuff, I get it.  But you have to reign in your spending.  The lifestyle you are trying to live is an illusion and it’s much healthier for you to truly live your life instead.  Don’t worry so much about appearances because appearances lie.  Be!
  • Your Expenses Are Too Big To Get your Head Around – It can be a daunting task to start a budget if you haven’t done one before.  Start small.  Gather up your bills.  If you don’t have them then as they come in write down their totals in a spreadsheet (or a notebook).  After you have put together your expenses, compare that to your income (for most that’s you paycheck stubs over the month).  Once you can see you expenses and income you can start to go more into the details.  Start holding on to receipts as you spend and mark them down.  Track down the little expenses.  Take a look at those bills and see what they are made up of.  The point is, if you want to start a budget you can.  Don’t think you have to do it all at once.  For most a budget is  work in process.
  • You’re Afraid – Liberate yourself from this fear.  If you are afraid then you probably think your expenses/spending are out of control.  It may not be as bad as you think.  Even if it is, once you can put a definite figure on it you’ve taken a step to start attacking it.  It’s not going to get better until you decide to do something about it and a big first step is starting a budget!
  • It Takes Too Much Energy And Time – Maybe at first it takes some time.  But once you know your recurring bills it gets a lot quicker.  Get yourself organized and you’ll find it doesn’t take much time at all (personal finance software like Mint, Mvelopes, or Moneydance – review can help).  And you will also find that tracking things like your taxes expenses will be easier since you’ve been keeping track of spending all year.
  • It’s Depressing – It doesn’t make me happy all the time to see what money I have left for the month.  Or to see how much I pay out.  But a budget is empowering.  With you budget you are in control and you see exactly what you spend.  What makes me happy (not depressed) is knowing that I have a handle on my money.  It’s a powerful feeling in fact!
  • You Manage To Get By Without One – That’s great if you get all of your bills paid and still have money left over without a budget.  You might even have money going into savings and a retirement account.  Some people are naturally good at keeping track.  But if you put together a budget you may find lots of small “money leaks” that you weren’t aware of previously.  You may find that your savings and such will grow considerably when you see exactly what your spending is.  From personal experience, my wife and I were surprised to see how much we spent on the weekends on little things.  Had we known then what we know now we’d have much nicer savings!
  • Your Spouse Isn’t On the Same Page As You – You need to sit down and talk to your spouse and have a serious money talk.  A budget doesn’t mean you can’t use money any more it just means you know where that money is going and why.  A budget allows you to align your goals for your family.

Hey, you know what? A budget isn’t that tough!  Stop making excuses and get started on one.  You just might find things are easier once you see where your money is going.

Bonus: I just discovered these templates to help manage your finances in Google Docs!  They’re free and there’s a whole bunch of them!

No More Excuses!

See Part I: 9 Excuses Why You Haven’t Started A Budget
Creative Commons License photo credit: peasap

9 Excuses Why You Haven’t Started A Budget Yet

Budget Spreadsheet
I was thinking about why more people and families don’t have a budget.

It’s really the thing to do to keep track of your expenses and income and make sure you don’t go over with your spending.  I thought about all the different excuses I’ve heard and seen from people.

So why haven’t you started a budget? Here are some common reasons:

You Don’t Want To Be Told What To Do

A budget can tell you how much you actually have to spend and what you can afford every month.  You don’t want to be told where your money has to go and you don’t want to hear that you can’t spend when you want.

A Budget Constrains You

You feel choked by the limitations of a budget.  Can’t spend what I want on clothes.  {Cough, cough.}  Can’t go out for coffee drinks every day.  {Choke.}  The mere thought of a budget starts to make you feel walled in.

You Can’t Do What You Want

What fun is it to know you can’t afford to go out to eat four times a week?  Who wants that.  You want to be able to spend freely and do what you feel at the moment.  That’s what freedom is, isn’t it?

Can’t Give Up Your Ego And Admit You Need To Control Your Spending

You refuse to believe that you have a spending problem.  You’re living an illusion.  Even though it causes stress you always find a way out of your financial messes without learning the lessons.  When there’s a will there’s a way and you can spend what you want.  Everything’s ok.

Your Expenses Are Too Big To Get Your Head Around

You want to have a budget but you don’t know where to start.  You’ve tried to get a few bills together but the task seems too big so you end up giving up.  You’re not organized enough to get everything together.  You may not even know all of the bills you pay every month.  It’s too much.

You’re Afraid

You don’t even want to see what your finances are!  To actually put a number to your expenses would give you a heart attack (not literally but close enough).  You know it’s bad but you really can’t stand to see the actual figures.

It Takes Too Much Energy And Time

You don’t have the time to put all of your receipts and bills together.  You work a 9 to 5 five that’s rarely just that and when you come home the last thing you want to do is more work.

It’s Depressing

It just doesn’t make you feel good to see your finances in a budget.  You would rather not put yourself into a funk so you ignore the idea of a budget.

You Manage To Get By Without One

Your bills get paid.  Money goes into savings.  You invest.  What do you need a budget for? (I’ll answer that one in another post).

That’s nine excuses a person might not have a budget.  Does one of these resemble you?  Can you think of others?

See Part II: Excuse Busters For Not Having A Budget!

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