Mar 13, 2009

A Slow Start

Through Associated Content, in the past week I've managed to earn three cents. Granted, there have only been two articles that were published, and both of them were album reviews. There was the Synchronicity review, and there was Pink Floyd's The Wall review. Both of these were test articles more than anything else; something to put up to see how long it would take to get published, what the process is like, etc. When I wrote those reviews I was writing for myself as the audience, but as I read more articles on AC I think I've begun to tailor my writing towards that specific audience.

For me, personally, I've been enjoying writing "How To" articles. Such as, How To Propose, an article where I give some thoughts on what I learned from proposing to Ashley. Within the article, of course, there are some personal examples as illustrations. I also wrote How To Plan an Inexpensive Wedding, something that I'm learning about as I'm doing. My third article of the week was A Beginner's Guide to Understanding and Enjoying Mixed Martial Arts. It is partially informational, partially a tribute to men wearing nothing but shorts and trying to hurt each other.

So that's the good news. The bad news is two fold. For one, as mentioned, I've only made three cents. I can recycle a can for more than that, so why should I put significant time into writing, editing, and publishing articles. The second is that all those articles that were published (finally, yesterday and today), were written and submitted on the weekend. So not only does it take forever to get it up on the site, but I also haven't had a scrap of time to write more for the site.

It's frustrating, to have a number of ideas for short articles, or a series of articles, and not be able to express them. I suppose it would be like having a song, or a photo, or a video in your head, and be without the tools or the time to pursue it. So a very frustrating week. This weekend is also extremely busy, so amongst wedding planning, visiting friends, and attending an engagement party (rough life, I know), I must find time to continue to write, so that I can earn three more cents, and hopefully, save you a hundred dollars.

Mar 12, 2009

A Priority Shakedown

I often have the chance to go into schools while I'm reading meters. A couple weeks ago I was in a high school where Caucasian was the clear minority. On Tuesday I upset some preschool kids as they had to move their desks so I could access a closet. Today I was in an elementary school, and while I was waiting for the engineer to let me into their electrical room, I read some of the work the students had posted on the hallway walls.

With St. Patrick's day coming up, the kids had all drawn four leaf clovers on a big sheet of paper. In the middle, they were clearly instructed to fill in the sentence, "I'm lucky because..." I read about a dozen of these one sentence insights into the human soul, and it was easy to recognize a clear pattern as there were only two responses. I am lucky because I am in relationship with a person, or I am lucky because I have this cool toy. Now, they weren't exactly in those words. They were more like, "I am lucky because I have a PS3/Nintendo DS/lots of Wii games", or "I am lucky because Nicky is my friend/I have a cool teacher/I have a nice family". Of those dozen responses, only one was different. They were lucky because they had a sweet teddy bear.

It shocked me, because at such an early age kids are already prioritizing what is most important to them. When they think of their life, and what makes them lucky, it is either a person or a thing. It makes me wonder what I prioritize in my life, whether that's my PlayStation 3, my fiance, or my teddy bear. What makes me lucky? Sure, I am lucky to have a video game console, a nice TV, and a bottle of scotch. But even if I didn't have those things, I would still be lucky because I have a number of good friends, and my girlfriend said yes when I asked her to marry me.

So if people and relationships are my priority (and I think that it should be), then how does my money reflect that? As I mentioned in my last post, I think we would agree that it would be great if our lives were a little less complicated, and a little less stressful. So how do I go about making my financial life work for me, towards my priorities? If my priority is a financially stress free life, with a focus on my relationships, how do I make my money work for me? How does my spending reflect my priorities?

I want to be clear though. The purchase and acquisition of things is not wrong, it is not bad, it is not sinful. Buying a television or a new pair of really nice jeans is something that should be enjoyed, and treasured, and cherished. For me, however, that joy should not supplant relationships, and it should not put me in a financially precarious situation. Each of us is going to have to figure out that balance in our own lives.

So what about you? What are your priorities? How does your lifestyle and spending habits reflect that? Want something to change? What makes you feel lucky?

Have you opened an online savings account yet? Don't think you need one? On Monday I'll show you how I put $30 in my account for just a few minutes of work.

Mar 11, 2009

What Kind of Money Do You Want?

My job allows me to see lots of different houses. I see old houses, overgrown with weeds, fallen trees, and the scrap metal from a couple of generations. I see freshly built duplexes, ancient apartments, and mansions that fill an entire city block. As I read meters, I always steal glances into the windows and lives of the houses I walk by. Some windows are boarded off, others have curtains closed. Some display the marble floors and nine square foot paintings that are professionally hung in the hallway. Others show me a library of books, and some smell like tomato soup, or curry. As I see the houses, I imagine myself living there. Which one would I want to own? Do I want the one that needs a gardener (or two) to maintain the lawn, or do I want the one that is close to being torn down?

It's the same question I have with money. What kind of money do I want? Do I want a limitless bank account, or am I okay with living paycheck to paycheck? Do I want finances that need constant attention? Do I want something that's ready to be torn down?

All I want from my money is the ability to live the life that I want without stress or strain. I see money as a means to an ends. I do not see the point in hoarding money, but I do see the benefit of saving for emergencies. I do not feel the need to buy the newest, or most expensive vehicle, but it would be nice to have a way to get around town. So what does my ideal look like?

Live the Life I Want

I'm lucky in the sense that I don't want an extravagant life. I don't want multiple vehicles, or a mansion. For now, I am content with taking the bus and renting. I do want to be able to eat as much as I want, of the food that I want. That doesn't mean I'm eating out every night, but once a week or so would be nice. I would also like to be able to come home and be entertained, whether that means watching television, playing a video game, or going out for an evening. Financially, I want to be debt free, with some money in the bank for emergencies and for the future.

Without Stress or Strain

I think that a significant amount of financial difficulty comes from either spending more money than one makes (and going into debt), or spending every single penny that is earned. It isn't fun to be constantly worried about whether or not I am going to be able to afford going out for dinner or if I should buy new jeans or not. Without stress means that I'm not worrying over every little purchase, and without strain means that there's a gap between my income and my expenses. I want to be able to spend my money on the things that are important to me without feeling guilty or panicked. If I want a new video game, if I feel as though it would be worth $60, then I should be able to purchase it without regret or remorse. That does not mean that I should be getting a new video game every week, and if I am feeling that desire, then I probably have larger issues. However, if I feel as though it is a justified expense, and I have room for it in my budget, then I should be free to spend my money on it.

I think most people have a similar desire. They want to be feel free financially. I think a lot of us 20 somethings feel very trapped by our finances. We grew up with our parents trying to teach us to be financially responsible, or not talking about money at all. They'd either give us a small allowance and then take some back right away, trying to teach us that it was savings, or taxes or some other such rubbish. Or perhaps they would just drop large chunks of cash in your direction, hoping to tide you over for awhile, hoping that you'd figure it out on your own. Our schools forced us to do math in a class that was not math class, figuring that by making us to work with taxes or budgets we'd be fine once we left high school and got real jobs. It didn't work, and it made managing money feel like work. So no wonder we're so lost financially.

We feel trapped, and at a loss. We feel as though debt is inevitable, that everybody is in debt from the minute they're born until they day they day. You grow up in debt to your parents, before being shipped off to a $10k/year college where you spend four years figuring out that you don't want to be involved in your major for the rest of your life. You take your $25k of debt and marry it to someone else's, putting yourself $50k in the hole. Then you get a car ($60k), some furniture ($65k), and start drinking because you just realized you have more debt than the two of you make in 18 months ($70k). Your interest payments take a quarter of each paycheck away, so you say, "screw it" and get yourself a mortgage so that at least your debt is acquiring property ($370k). You work hard for the next thirty years of your life, just in time to put your kids into college, retire without a savings plan, and die.

And every single day, there's a slightly heavier weight on your shoulders, as you slowly watch your money bleed away.

I don't want to feel trapped by my money. I want to feel free. Free to spend where I want to spend, without guilt, remorse, or fear. I think I can accomplish that, and I think you can too. I think that together, perhaps our generation can be the one that says "no more" to credit card payments and stupid debt. Maybe we can be debt free and living the life we want to live without stress or strain. Is that the kind of money you want?

Mar 10, 2009

Why Save Money?

It's 10:00 on a Tuesday night, and I'm exhausted. I just got back from a grocery trip to Superstore, and I am trying to write a blog post. The past few days have been incredibly tiring for me. Work was really rough today, and I feel like my body is fighting some sort of sickness. Yet here I am, slaving away on a tip that I want to share with my readers about how they can save themselves some money. I'm writing, and I'm reading over what I'm writing, and suddenly I ask myself, "Do my readers even want to save money?"

There's something about our society that fascinates me. We live in a consumeristic haven of prepackaged lust, where everything is about purchasing power, quality of life, and the bottom line. We strut about with our fancy cars, fancy houses, and fancy purses, proud as a peacock over our pretty purchases. This, we declare, is the reason why we work so hard, so that we can spend our money on lavish purchases. Our self worth is defined by how much money we are able to spend on ourselves.

Yet, you put those same people in the room with a sale sign, or better yet, label something "free", and you can watch the previously content proud cats pounce upon goods and services as if their shiny shiny coats depended on it. We all want to save a buck, we all want to get a good deal, no matter how thick our wallets are. I mean, we'd all like to be able to shrug off $50,000 jewlery, but I think that most of us, somewhere within us, wish that we had a little more money. Maybe not so that we can show off how rich we are, but so that we have a sense of security or safety, or so that we are enabled to live the life that we want to live without stress or strain.

So do you want to save some money? Is saving money worth it? Do you see saving money as something that is difficult, or restrictive, like something that your parents enforced upon you while you were younger? What is your ideal financial picture look like? What feelings does having some money in the bank evoke? What about if you didn't have any money?

Have you ever heard about compound interest, and how if you can invest $1000/year in your 20s, you'll be better off than the guy that saves $1000/year in his thirties, fourties and fifties? Did you know that all that financial advice comes from people in their thirties, fourties, and fifties, that never managed to save $1000/year and now they're regretting it? I don't want to be that guy. I want to be the guy that somehow managed to scrap together a hundred bucks every month and managed to stick it away somewhere so I can say, "Hey, I made a smart decision, and one day I'll benefit from it", rather than say, "Yeah, I could retire, but hey, it was so shiny, I couldn't resist!"

So yeah, I want to save some money. I think that if I can pull together a few bucks now, I'll be saving myself a lot more in the future. I'm thinking that if I work a little harder now, I can work a little easier later. What about you?

Mar 9, 2009

How to Set Up an Online Savings Account

By the end of this post you'll have the chance to earn yourself $13. If you read my last personal finance post, I promised you that you could save $100 by the end of the month. All you have to do is read my blog and follow some simple and easy ways to save money. The first step in the process is to create a place to save the money. This is where an online savings account comes in.

What is an Online Savings Account?

Unlike what a lot of us are familiar with, an Online Savings Account is a bank without a local branch that you are able to walk into. It is also not the online version of your local bank, like your credit union's website. Instead, it is a bank that you do business with entirely by mail, phone, or preferably, the internet.

Why an Online Savings Account?

There are three major reasons why you should set up an online savings account.

1. Higher interest rates. Growing up, my credit union's savings account was banking me a whopping 0.1%. That means that every year, they gave me one tenth of a percentage of my money back. At that rate, I was losing money to inflation. However, my online saving's account is giving me 2.3% 2% (curse the economy), which is a fair bit less than the 3.5% that I originally had when I signed up, but apparently there's a recession going on. So put your money somewhere that it is going to work for you, not against you.

2. Separation of church and state (or at least savings and spending). Online banking's greatest weakness is also it's greatest strength. The online account will not give you a debit card, you cannot write cheques for the account, and you can't pay your credit card bill with it. In addition, transferring money to or from the account will take a business day or two. That's a good thing. The point of a savings account is money that you won't spend immediately. Forcing yourself to think over a purchase for 48 hours will ensure that if you are withdrawing the money from the account, it's for a good reason.

3. Automatic transfers. You can set up your online account to withdraw money from your normal bank account on a regular basis. Automating savings is the most important step you can take towards saving money. I guarantee that if you don't have money in your bank account, you will be far less likely to spend it. Keep reading and I'll show you how to set it up.

How to Open an Online Savings Account

While Americans have a few more options, the best bet for Canadians (as far as I am aware) is to head on over to ING Direct. I have an account with them, and I've been very happy with it. Just click on the "sign me up" tab and choose to open an "investment savings account". Fill out the information and you're practically done. The most difficult part of this process is linking the online account to a real bank account. This is how you'll be doing most of your banking online, by transferring money from your regular main account to and from your online savings account. A few minutes of work now will be worth it later though, I promise.

You'll have to get a cheque from your local bank account, make it out to yourself, and mail it to ING Direct. Once they receive it, and the cheque is processed, then your account is open, verified, and ready to go. Want to earn that extra $13? Make the cheque at least $100, include the Orange Key "17504111S1" and when your cheque clears you and I will both get an extra $13 deposited into our online savings accounts. Opening an online account won't take you more than an hour and you'll get $13 for moving $100 from your regular account to your new one. Free money. Please note that this is not the $100 I said you could save. This is, however, the first $13.

How to Set Up an Online Savings Account

Once your account is opened you have the option of setting up an automatic savings plan. This is where your online account will automatically pull a set amount of money from your main chequing account on a regular basis. For example, if you're saving for a new computer, or a car, you could have your savings account pull $100 at the end of every month into your savings account. After a few months you'll have enough to transfer the money back to your chequing account for your new purchase.

What I've done is set up my account so that every other friday, on payday, I have my employer directly deposit my paycheck into my bank account. On that same day, ING Direct pulls a set amount of money right back out of that account for my wedding savings. It's as if I never even had the money. That is the brilliance of the automation. I cannot spend money that I never had. Trying to hold onto a couple hundred or thousand dollars in my chequing account is too tempting for me, there's too much to spend it on. By automating my finances, I've removed temptation from savings. It's not whether or not I want to save money this paycheck, it's already saved.

So if you want to save $100 by the end of this month, set up an online savings account today. It'll take about an hour and you'll earn an (almost) instant $13. Start small by setting up your automatic savings plan to withdraw $10 twice a month from your account, and by the end of the month you'll have $33 waiting for you. It isn't much, but we all have to start somewhere. I started with $15 a month while I was a student, and by the time I realized it I had a couple hundred dollars in there.

*Disclaimer. I am not endorsed or paid in any way by ING Direct, I've just used their service, have appreciated it, and wanted to share it with my readers. Yes, I will get $13 if you use my orange key, but so will you.