My Favorite Podcasts

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I don’t have a whole lot of “free” time on my hands lately, but I do one thing every single day that is required and consistent—I commute. Every single day, I’m afforded the gift of 20 minutes each way in my car with no distractions, except those I choose to create for myself by listening to music or talk radio.

Over the last 6 months, I changed my approach to this time with one simple tool—podcasts, and I’m spreading the message to as many people as I can. The longer someone’s commute, in fact, the more they stand to gain from leveraging their time in the car.

Podcasts, for the uninitiated, are simply recorded audio broadcasts available online. They range from amateur to professional, informal to highly structured, a few short minutes to several hours long, daily to yearly. Each podcast is essentially a channel you subscribe to (just like a blog), and get updates whenever something new is posted. A single app on my Android (or your iTunes account for the Mac people), manages every podcast I want to listen to effortlessly.

Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Beyond the To Do List: Erik Fisher interviews a wide variety of guests on productivity and life skills. Check out this interview with Rachel Cruze on teaching kids about money.
  2. Simple Life Together: Beyond the awesome advice on how to simplify my life, I think I enjoy Dan and Vanessa’s playful dynamic far more than any other “duo” podcast.
  3. The Smart Passive Income Blog: Pat Flynn is well-known for his online business experiments, but his podcast goes far beyond that with practical advice for many business and personal issues.
  4. The Tim Ferris Show: From the author of the Four Hour Workweek and other books, this casual, R-rated, dense, and intensely practical podcast takes some warming up to, but is a recent favorite of mine.
  5. You Need a Budget: Jesse Mecham discusses the YNAB philosophy and how to apply the four rules in your daily life for financial success.
  6. Life in the Woods Podcast: Blake Stratton interviews some of the most interesting creative people in the world, with a focus on music. More than anything, I love his tone of voice and delivery of the message.

Enjoy!

Spending More to Save More

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I visited the vet’s office this week to pick up the flea & heart worm medication my dog takes on a monthly basis. As always, I was given the option of getting a 6 or 12-month supply.

This particular  brand, which comes in the form of a pill, is both effective and expensive. It’s the only thing that can keep fleas off my dog, and I’ve tested many, many products over the years. I’ve learned to suck it up and pay the cost.

At the vet’s office, I could get the 6-month supply for $110 and receive a $10 mail-in rebate, for a total of $100 over 6 months, or about $16.67 per month.

My other option was a 12-month supply for $220 (double the price), but I would get $12 off instantly, and the mail-in rebate jumped to $50. Suddenly, the cost is $13.17 per month–not a huge difference, but it starts to add up. If my dog lives 15 years, that’s a $630 savings! There’s also a convenience factor–since this particular pill is only available at the vet, I cut my need to drive to the vet’s office to just once a year. Conveniently, that’s the same as my dog’s annual check-up timeframe.

Here are a few points to remember when you face the same decision:

  • Companies are willing to cut you a break for buying in bulk, because they get more of your money up front. If it’s a product you need for the long run, seriously consider it.
  • Consider the ancillary costs of “spending less” — in this case, buying a 6-month supply would also cost me another hour of time and $10 in gas every year to drive to the vet twice as much.
  • Figure out if you have enough storage space, and home systems that are robust enough, to avoid wasting the extra supplies you just invested in. I’ve seen too many things go to waste or get lost over the years to buy certain items in bulk.

Focusing on the little things is normally a sure path to getting distracted from the big things that will make a difference (e.g. clipping coupons vs. negotiating your salary). But when faced with the choice anyway, make the choice that will help you and make the little things add up!

Photo by Alan Cleaver

The Pros and Cons of Having Roommates

This post is written by Jennifer Riner of Zillow.

Renters looking to save money should consider leasing apartments with friends. College students are notorious for cohabitating with classmates to spend more time together before graduation. Increasing numbers of 20-something’s carry this mentality into their professional lives to save money. Even more experienced renters choose to bunk with old friends for camaraderie. While living with friends can be fun and financially responsible, it can also present certain disadvantages.

Before signing contracts with colleagues, consider the following pros and cons.

Advantages

Saved Money

Half of the rent of a two-bedroom apartment is likely less expensive than the full rent of a one-bedroom in the same building. These price variances mean renters can save money while reaping the benefits of residing in more expensive complexes and communities. Decreased rent per person means a better chance to score the best location, too. Prospective tenants looking at apartments for rent to share with friends can stretch their budgets further than if they were hunting solo.

Split Chores

Two people can clean a lot faster than one. Household chores should be divvied up evenly so both parties complete the same amount of work. Renters may find themselves more organized if they know their roommates are affected by their cleanliness, or lack thereof.

Increased Safety

Living alone can put individuals at risk for break-ins and burglaries. Although having roommates doesn’t guarantee well-being, it certainly helps dissuade criminals. Aside from theft, roommates can assist in cases of medical emergencies, such as heart attacks or concussions. Unsurprisingly, single renters are more at risk when serious emergencies occur than those with roommates who can alert authorities or call ambulance services. Hopefully none of the above occurs, but having someone available for support helps bring peace of mind if nothing else.

Disadvantages

Unreliable Rent Payments

Late portions of total rent payments reflect negatively on all residents. Landlords typically don’t charge separate rents for each roommate. Rather, property managers consider units as a whole, so monetary disregard is attributed to everyone. Aside from irritating landlords, rent negligence can hurt credit ratings or potentially cause evictions. Select roommates who have proven their financial responsibility in the past. Budget-minded friends are likely good potential roommates who won’t harm anyone’s fiscal future.

Personal Disagreements

Being forced to share space with someone can cause immense tension and negatively affect an otherwise great renting experience. What is the point of paying for apartments with gourmet kitchens and luxurious living rooms if roommates make it uncomfortable to venture into common areas? Make sure roommates’ personalities are compatible; close friends are likely better fits than random renters from online classified advertisements.

Differing Lifestyles

Typically, homebodies shouldn’t live with constant partiers. Even if personalities are a match, their differing lifestyles may cause issues. For example, a full-time worker should avoid living with a nightlife-loving undergrad. Find renters with corresponding calendars, so sleep schedules aren’t disrupted. Nothing prompts a fight quite like exhaustion coupled with annoyance.

Whether renting with an old acquaintance or interviewing a friend-of-a-friend, consider the aforementioned pros and cons to decide whether sharing an apartment is the right choice.

Getting Your Fashion Line off the Ground

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Creating a fashion line takes much more than a passion for fashion. It takes a lot of hard work and a sound business plan to make a fashion line a success. Here are some tips that have turned unknown names in the world of haute couture into fashion empires. Fashion is one of the most popular and sought after industries. It is creative, innovative and most of all glamorous.

Put It in Writing

Anyone who is committed to having as successful fashion line needs to have a plan in place. Creating a plan is the first step in turning the dream of owning a successful line into a reality. This plan should include the goals of a business and clarify the vision of the future owner. It should also include ways  to become more familiarized with the industry. This plan should include other logistical factors such as whether the owner wants to design and sew the clothes or outsource these tasks, and where fabric and supplies will be sourced.

After a plan for a how to start a fashion business has been written out, it should be examined thoroughly, according to Seventeen Magazine. This should be done to determine if developing a fashion line is something that can fit the future owner’s lifestyle. This can help people decide if they want to pursue developing a fashion as a career or not.

Following the Money

Finances for a business need to be tracked from the start. This helps to keep spending from getting out of control. Another way to keep control over expenses can be achieved through research. Production, manufacturing, shipping and marketing costs should all be carefully researched to find the most cost effective source for a business to use. The best way to do this is to contact three vendors for each service and compare their costs.

Learn the Business Top to Bottom

A prospective small business owner does not need a business degree to create a successful business. Those who are serious about starting a fashion line can gain all of the skills they need to run a business by educating themselves about all aspects of the fashion industry. Taking the time to learn about everything from production to making a sales pitch will give a person the knowledge they need to run a business properly.

Learning about the industry from the bottom to the top is what sets those who are successful apart from those who fail. The fashion industry has become very popular in the past several years due to reality shows that have hit the airwaves. This has caused several people to enter into the industry with the belief that they can make it on passion alone. People need to remember that fashion design is a serious trade. This means the basic fundamental skills that are used to start any other business need to be in place prior to entering into the industry.

Make Connections

It is important for any business owner to make connections with others who work in the industry. When a potential business owner is doing research and learning about the industry, it is important to make connections with the people they meet during these processes. These people can prove to be valuable resources later as a business develops. Profitable business partnerships can also be made through these connections. All names and crucial information about these connections should be kept in some form of log where they can be easily accessed at a later time when needed, according to Business News Daily.

Exposure, Promotion and Sales

The Internet is the best thing to ever happen to business owners who are just starting out. The Internet offers a worldwide marketplace where a fashion line can be seen and discovered by people globally, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Online shops are the best way to get exposure, promote a business and increase sales. The best part about this type of exposure is that it’s inexpensive. Having an online store reaches more potential clients and costs far less than a brick-and-mortar location, according to US News.

Starting an online shop can be done easily through one of the businesses which offer ways to do it in a cheap and easy manner. The key to success is finding one of these businesses that offers professional looking templates and custom design abilities. The company you use should also offer the ability to easily develop and maintain an online store. Take the time to research the company you are going to work with and make sure it has everything you need to get started and expand as needed. With a little gumption and hard work, you can turn your fashion dreams into a stunning reality.

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The Two Most Important Questions When Cutting Down Your Budget

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There are as many reasons for cutting a budget as there are individuals: maybe you’ve just lost a job or got a pay cut, or perhaps you want to save more for an upcoming trip, or maybe you have a brand new budget and realized that you’re spending way too much.

Cutting budget categories has a lot of emotion attached to the process, particularly if you’ve lived with the same level of spending for some time. There’s always a reason or excuse for why you can’t eliminate A and why you can’t cut B. You get attached to your current lifestyle and it’s very hard to envision doing it any other way.

That’s why today, I have a very simple but very powerful pair of questions that will bust any budget wide open:

  • How can significantly reduce this budget category?
  • How can I completely eliminate this budget category?

Whoa, you might say, wait just a minute–I’m supposed to tell you how to eliminate all spending for some of my spending categories? But that’s impossible!

I hear you, and that’s why I have examples, to show you that nothing is impossible. And once nothing is impossible, you can actually start making choices about what you want to change, which is rarely as drastic as this exercise would suggest.

Let’s take a couple of “fortified” categories where many people simply refuse to budge. Housing comes to mind–but I don’t want to move, you might say. That’s not the point of the exercise. The point is, if you absolutely had to reduce or eliminate, what is the next action step? For me, reduction might mean selling my house and moving to a small apartment. Complete elimination could mean moving in with a friend or family member. I didn’t say it was easy, did I?

Okay, now I have two perfectly good options to eliminate my mortgage payment if I feel the need to do so. Am I going to do that now? Of course not, but it has opened the conversation.

Let’s take our personal care category, which includes items like shampoos, soaps, Q-tips, and grooming items. How am I supposed to take showers without soap, you ask, but that is the wrong question. The right question is–how do I get soap without paying for it? Illegal theft aside, I can think of a couple of options.

Personal care items are often the target of sales and coupon schemes that make it possible to get many toiletry items at very low cost or no cost at all. If I had some time on my hands, I might consider ordering free samples of different products or using the sample-sized hotel bottles of a friend who travels a lot. Again, I didn’t say it was going to be easy or free of possible shame. But now I’m thinking creatively.

Okay, one more, just to round things out. Let’s go big or go home with groceries.

Okay, I’ll admit that it would be very hard to live if we couldn’t eat, and we’re not taking things to that extreme here. Thankfully, even this category can fit into our exercise with a bit of critical thinking. Since eating is a life-or-death matter, the U.S. government steps in for people who have incomes low enough to qualify for food stamps. In theory, someone using only government subsidies would not be “spending” any money out of their own budget–if money is so tight that you’re considering eliminating the grocery budget, then I would certainly not hold it against you to get temporary help from public sources.

On the reduction side, groceries are actually pretty easy. There’s a wealth of information on the web about how to cut grocery spending by doing everything from shopping in bulk to clipping coupons. I would go as far as to limit the types of food I was buying–no more luxuries, no more desserts, until the flow of money to the category can be restored.

Application

I encourage you to look through your budget when you have a few minutes–take the time to sit with each category, figure out these two burning questions, and write them down for future reference. Implement what you feel is appropriate and save the rest for more challenging times.

Don’t hold anything sacred, and you might walk away very grateful for what you have today!

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How to Instill Work Ethic in Your Kids With Paid Chores

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Last weekend, I was listening to the Beyond the To Do List Podcast with Erik Fisher and caught bits and pieces (in between my kids screaming) of an interview with Rachel Cruze, Dave Ramsey’s daughter. They were chatting about a new book she co-authored with Ramsey on raising money-smart kids: Smart Money Smart Kids.

I haven’t checked out the book yet, although it sounds worthwhile enough to make it to my queue. What raised my curiosity was Erik’s conversation with Rachel about how to raise kids that understand what it means to work, and understand how work equates to earning money. In Rachel’s view (and I’m paraphrasing), we’re bringing up a generation that has a deep disconnect between work from money.

One of Rachel’s suggestions (and, by association, presumably one of her Dad’s as well), is to start kids on paid chores program for chores they do around the house. Not all chores, like washing dishes or picking up their room, would be payable, because some simply count as expectations and contributions to the family. But some chores, the “optional” ones, could carry a financial reward that can teach kids as young as four the important work-earnings connection.

I spent the rest of my weekend giving this some thought. Growing up, I recall a couple of ways I made money that are fairly consistent with this principle. My parents would pay me a buck for every dress shirt I would iron for my Dad. Of course, I was naturally limited by the size of Dad’s wardrobe, but at 5 minutes a shirt, this part of my allowance would add up quickly. On the other hand, I was expected to wash, dry, and fold laundry without any kind of financial reward. That was an obligation on my part to the family.

Fast forward 20 years, and my son turned four just a few short months ago. I started to think about what we expect from him, however small:

  • He needs to put his dirty clothes away and can’t leave things laying around on the floor.
  • Any books he takes off his bookshelf have to make it back (not always in neat order, but we help with that part).
  • Our multi-purpose room (a.k.a. the “play room”)  floor stays clear at all costs.
  • During dinner time, he helps with setting the table and clearing the dishes.

I think my son’s understanding of money is fairly good for his age. We try to get him involved with the budget process as much as possible, in terms he understands. He knows that resources are finite–when he’s able to get one thing, it’s because he can’t always get something else. He also knows that the money in his piggy bank took a while to save up, and that any decision to spend it should be considered with some thought. He had a conversation with himself about it the other day, carefully weighing the pros and cons of what could be done with the money.

If we wanted to implement the Ramsey allowance plan, what are some of the extra chores that he could do, right now? I found an age-appropriate list at WebMD that included things like:

  • Help dust the house, and spot-vacuum with the handheld.
  • Pull weeds from the flower beds and water the plants.
  • Unload parts of the dishwasher or help put away dry pots and pans.
  • Help with making meals.

I liked many of these and thought they could be appropriate for paid chores. All of the ones I listed are things that he doesn’t do right now and they would all be at least somewhat challenging for him. As my kids grow up, this would be an adjustable list–while he might get paid for unloading the dishwasher now, it could become an expected family chore when he’s a little older. I’ve got to think through that transition a bit more, but I think replacing current paid chores with new challenges would be rather seamless.

What are some of the chores I would expect to tack to their “payable list” on as the boys get older and more capable of helping the family?

  • We have a bit of land around the house, so yard work is both physically demanding and time-consuming for our family. As they age, I would expect them to take one a bigger role in keeping the yard, with financial rewards consistent with the effort and difficulty of the task.
  • While basic pet care, like feeding and walking, would be part of the family duties, there are plenty of additional chores which might be part of the earnings list, like giving the dog her bath.
  • “Advanced” cleaning around the house (a.k.a. the stuff that rarely gets done) would gladly make the list. They could take their pick from: washing the refrigerator, Windexing the windows, power washing the siding, dusting the picture frames, etc, etc…

The natural question is how to keep kids motivated to do the “optional” chores if they don’t have explicit “negative” consequences for avoiding them. Rachel Cruze points out, and I completely agree, that every kid has something they want–a new bike, a trip to see Mickey, even something as small as bubble gum. If parents aren’t too quick to say “how high?” when kids say jump, and instead let kids save up for their own wants, motivation to work for money shouldn’t be too far behind.

What do you think? Have you seen the effects first-hand, positive or negative, of the paid chore approach?

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Top Auto-Advancements to Consider When Buying a Car

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Whether you’re in the market for a new luxury vehicle or looking to upgrade to a newer, more reliable model, you likely have an idea of what you want in a new ride. From deciding on the color and size of the vehicle to the number of doors and amount of cargo space, you have many options to choose from when buying a car, including the latest automobile technologies. Purchasing a car with some of the most recent innovations in the automotive industry can help you recoup a larger portion of your investment when you’re ready to sell. Learn about the top auto-advancements to consider when buying a car. And, if you haven’t already started saving, compare savings account rates and then open a money market account to help your goal of buying a car become a reality.

Bluetooth, GPS navigation and USB Ports

With many states banning the use of hand-held devices while driving a motor vehicle, Bluetooth calling is a no longer just a luxury, it’s a necessity, especially for those who are frequently on-the-go. Not only can Bluetooth sync technology keep your hands free when you’re on the phone while driving, but it also provides the ability to access and stream music from your smartphone through the vehicle. Built-in Global Position System, or GPS, navigation is also becoming a common feature in many new cars, as it helps route driving through unfamiliar areas. Instead of using paper maps or cell phones, sliding around the car, GPS navigation in the dashboard helps keep eyes on the road and unnecessary distractions to a minimum. Technologies like Bluetooth, USB charging ports and GPS navigation are included in many 2013 and 2014 models.

Cameras and digital monitors

From the birds-eye camera that projects a 360 degree view of your surroundings to a lane-watch camera used to project blind spots, auto-advancements are going digital with cameras at seemingly every angle. Used to provide visibility in tight conditions, in-car monitors give you the convenience of knowing what’s around with just a glance at the 3-D screen, and rear view cameras help you back safely into a driveway or parking spot. And for parents who like to keep their children occupied while on the road, rear-seat entertainment systems like TVs and DVD players are available in many current mini-vans and SUVs.

Fuel-efficient engines

The cost of gas has reached a new normal in the U.S., remaining steady at around the three dollar range. With longer commutes taking more money out of many drivers’ pockets, fuel efficiency is a priority for automakers. When buying a new car, you’ll be able to choose from standard gas-powered vehicles with better fuel efficiency, as well as hybrid, electric and soon, hydrogen engines to give you increased gas mileage, saving you money on the fuel in the long run. An electric car is currently the most fuel-efficient automobile, as it is powered by an electric motor that contains a rechargeable battery. However, a hybrid-electric vehicle combines the benefits of both a gasoline engine and electric motor by using two or more power sources to power the vehicle, which may allow cars to go further distances. On the lineup of new innovations for automakers in 2014 is a hydrogen-powered car that will give small sedans a 300-mile range on alternative power.

While the initial cost of an electric, hybrid or hydrogen-powered car is likely to be higher, it may be worth considering when saving for a car. Not only can buying a fuel-efficient vehicle save you money over the lifetime of the vehicle, but it will also help protect the environment by reducing the release of additional greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Features that can impact resale value

While you may not want to buy a car with all of the newest auto-advancements, some features are important to consider as they may become standard in all vehicles down the road. If you plan to own your car for a long period of time, buying a car with features like Bluetooth, fuel efficiency and camera monitors can help boost the value when you’re ready to sell or trade in your vehicle. Also, consider the brand and reliability of the vehicle. The type of drivetrain, whether your vehicle is four- or all-wheel drive and if it’s automatic or manual, can also be factors that determine the resale value.

Open a money market account and start saving for a car today

When deciding to buy a car, consider saving throughout the year, and wait to make your purchase at the end-of-the-year clearance sales. These can often get you the best deals on the previous and upcoming year’s models. Compare savings account rates and open an account to start saving for a car. Building a savings account can help cover your down payment and reduce the need for financing. To reach your goal of buying a car faster, money market accounts can offer you the flexibility to buy when the deal is right with the high interest rate you need to earn more. Once you’ve saved up your funds, decide which auto-advancements you want, and work with a dealership to find a car that fits your needs.

Sponsored content was created and provided by RBS Citizens Financial Group.

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