My wife and I went to see Spiderman on Broadway last night. It was a great production and to be honest, it was one of the first times I had been so close to so many people in a long time. I really noticed how long it had been when I became aggravated that the people sitting next to us, came back 5 minutes after intermission ended, forcing us to miss a few crucial seconds of the play.

Not only did I notice our tendency to hang out with people in small groups, but I also noticed how individualistic our society is. As I looked around the theater at intermission while chatting with my wife, I couldn’t help but notice the many lights that flickered in the crowd. The mixture of cell phone screen lights could be compared to lightning bugs on a summer night. While somewhat amusing, it’s also interesting to connect the isolation to this visual display. In the middle of the quite social event, most people were in their own individual world. This is how our society is.

While I believe we are typically social creatures, we have created a world where we spend a lot of time alone. Driving in cars, watching TV, playing games on our cell phones, and the list could go on. Unfortunately this has huge repercussions. One of the most obvious is how we treat those closest to us. Western culture has often held a unusual value when it comes to living with relatives, let alone caring for them. As my grandparents get older, I can’t help but think what it will be like taking care of my parents.

We Need to Care for Those Closest To Us

Christianity has often emphasized the need to help others. Selflessly giving oneself for others is a dominant theme with its message(s). Yet, for some reason, we seem to have difficulty caring for those closest to us. In many ways, I don’t know what to expect when it comes to caring for my parents – if I will ever have to. They were the ones who took care of me – it just seems strange to have the roles reversed.

Yet, I know it’s an important thing to do. I would hate to think of my parents alone in a retirement home. When I was growing up, when my grandmother was getting ready to marry for the second time, she lived with us for about a year. I was too young at the time to think through the full implications, but to this day, my father’s sacrifice for his mom still amazes me.

Caring for Others is Difficult

Even though I know it is important for me to take care of those I love, I know it’s not easy. Reading about caregiver burnout is one thing, and the other is the financial burden. There are many days where I feel like I hardly have enough energy to clean my own dishes… how would I take care of someone else?

While I don’t have an answer to some of these questions, I do know that I need to prepare for these unlikely scenarios. In addition to doing some research from authority sites like Genworth, I plan to save a little extra money to both help with care of my parents and for me and my wife. Since we don’t plan to have kids, it’s only likely that there won’t be anyone there to take care of us, especially if we outlive our siblings. While that may be depressing for many people, I know it’s a part of life and you can only do one of two things: prepare for it so that it is significantly more manageable OR ignore it and face the consequences of your action. I choose to do the former. If you have yet to think what life will be like for you or your loved ones in 10 or 20 years from now, take time to think of the worst case scenario so that you can be a little better prepared.

Lately I have been talking about how we want to buy a new house a lot. I think about it everyday and I find myself looking at houses everyday also. I’ve pretty much looked at all of the houses within a 60 mile radius of where I want to be.

I have seen a lot of houses that I like, but none that are perfect. I have literally browsed through thousands of houses. Right now I feel like I’m at the point that if I find a house that I absolutely love, I don’t know if I can wait until the end of 2013 or the beginning of 2014 to buy it. I mean, how could I wait? I haven’t found the perfect one yet so I definitely do not want to let the perfect house escape from me.

There are many things that we need to do before we buy, but we especially want to make sure that our credit scores are as perfect as they can be. Right now we are in the mid 700s and it would be higher if we wouldn’t have taken out a couple of 0% loans (we took them out just because they were 0%, we just let the cash sit in our bank because we believe that’s a better gain).

So, since we are focused on increasing our credit score and we plan on buying once the perfect house comes along, we need to really buckle down and make our credit score as good as it can be so that we can be ready to officially start the home buying process. Every little thing helps and even a couple of points higher would make us very happy.

How to quickly increase your credit score:

1. Check and fix any errors in your credit report.

When was the last time that you checked your credit report? You should do this at least once a year and make sure that there are no errors and that all of the information listed is correct. A small error might be drastically affecting your credit score, so check now! I recently ordered both of our credit reports from the 3 major agencies (all for free of course) and found that everything is correct now.

Everything being correct on our credit reports is a big deal because a couple of years ago I found out that someone had bought a house under my name when I was only 13! I had just found out about it because it was buried in my credit report and I had never looked hard enough. Definitely a big mistake.

2. Watch your utilization rate.

Pay down those high balances that you have. The balances that you have on your credit cards account for approximately 30% of your credit score. You want your balance to be below 30% of your total available credit. So if you are allowed to put up to $1,000 on your credit card, do not charge more than $300. It is also said to try and keep this amount below 20% in order to have an even better credit score.

This is something that we are really working on. I recently paid off a ton of credit card balances. We never carry a balance over and we always pay it off completely, but even with that, if you do not keep your utilization rate below 30%, it can still hurt your score even if you are paying your FULL balance off every month.

3. Keep all accounts open.

Recently my fiancé, “W,” was fooled into opened up a store credit card in order to save $25 off of his purchase.

Yes, I said $25 and that was all it took to entice him to sign up.  Trust me, he will never do that again! I thought about closing it immediately but I do know that closing it will only hurt his credit score and our ability to get a great interest rate on a mortgage. So, for now, we just plan on keeping it open and using it occasionally just so that it will help our credit score.

Closing a brand new credit card so quickly will most likely not have a positive effect on our credit score.

Are you trying to increase your credit score? What tips do you have?

Pros and Cons of Self Employment

Michelle —  February 11, 2013 — 11 Comments

A question I hear a lot is whether or not I plan on ever becoming self-employed. This is something that I think about often as well. I made over $6,000 in extra income in the month of January of 2013, so it’s hard not to think about self employment.

Plus, I’m starting to run out of time. Working a full-time job as an analyst in the financial services industry and also doing all of my side hustles including keeping up with my blog, takes up a lot of my time.

I’m still not entirely positive that self employment is for me. There are many positives and negatives of being self employed, and there are also many positives and negatives of working for someone else. Today, we will talk about the positives and negatives of self employment.

I think whether you will be comfortable being self employed is different with each individual person. Someone who needs someone constantly there telling them what to do might not be a good fit for self employment. Also, a person who is bursting at the seams with creativity or has the passion to be self employed, is probably not meant to work for someone else.

Positives of being self-employed:

1. You’re working for yourself.

This is the number one positive for me. You can do what you want and it can all be based on your own schedule. Everything can be done your way. I’m going to guess that if you are going the self-employed route, then you at least somewhat enjoy what you’re doing as well. I really, really enjoy all of my side hustles, and they truly make me happy. It’s like I’m not even working since I do enjoy it so much.

You also get to watch your company grow and see where it goes. Everything that you do affects the company, which can be a great feeling. You’re doing something exciting with your life and every move you make has an impact on your overall company.

2. Scheduling freedom.

Depending on what exactly you do for self employment, you can have scheduling freedom. You’re not a morning person? Well, then work at night.  Yes, yes, I do know that if the majority of your customers are awake only in the morning, then you will probably just be forced into being a morning person though.

If you can do the majority of your work on a computer, then travel while you work! You can do whatever you would like. Make your self employment position work around YOUR family and YOUR life, and not the other way around. Have fun with what you do.

3. Lower or no costs of commuting.

If you are able to work from home, then your commuting costs have significantly decreased most likely as well. You are also saving all of that extra time by not having to drive to and from work everyday. No more stress from having to sit in traffic for you!

Negatives of being self-employed:

1. You might get overworked.

When you’re working for yourself, it’s harder to have a good work-life balance. You are almost always bringing work home (especially if your work is at home), and it might be hard to take yourself away from your business. It almost becomes an addiction because you want to see your business go places.

2. You don’t know when you’ll get paid next.

This might not mean much if you’re already commission at your job, but if you make a salary, you might miss that regular and stable paycheck. You will most likely have to actively look for new clients and the amount of money you make may vary from month to month.

3. No benefits.

At your current job, you may get health insurance, a fitness center, discounts on various products and so on. However, if you work for yourself, then you most likely won’t qualify for these items. Luckily, my fiancé would be able to add me on to his plans, but not everyone is this lucky.

Do you want to be self-employed? Why or why not?

We are thinking about buying our next house in 2014. We bought our current house almost 4 years ago, and while it sounds bad, we are ready to move into our forever home. We have been thinking about how the economy has probably tanked the value of our house, and how we would like to see our house with at least somewhat of a gain, or as little of a loss as possible.

There are many things that you can do to increase the value of your home. Looks do mean something, and it can mean that your house will sell for a little higher, and possibly a little quicker. No one wants to pay for a house longer than they need to and incur additional charges.

Ways you can increase the value of your home:

1. Remodeling the bathroom(s)

When we were first looking at houses, we always looked at the bathroom. If the bathroom was severely outdated, then we always thought twice about the house. Both of our bathrooms are pretty well updated, but there are other things that we can do to them to increase the value.

We need to replace the mirror in the bathroom, preferably something with a frame and a bigger mirror. Then we also want to change the lighting as well. I’m guessing that this will cost around $500 if we do this ourselves. I have read that changing things like this will recoup most of the value when you do sell your house. Other things we could do is get rid of the sliding bathroom door and change it into a better glass and something that is more modern.

2. Adding more curb appeal

Right now, everything in our yard is pretty much dead. Last summer there was a heat wave and we were told not to use our water or water lawns because it hardly rained and we had many above 100 degree days. This means that EVERYTHING outside died and is brown.

We need to replant grass seed, plant some flowers, and make everything more green. Who wants to buy a house with spotty grass? We also want to make a nice garden in the backyard as well. We have many ideas and a lot of things that we need to start this year, if we want to put our house on the market next year.

3. Having a nice basement

We currently have a nice basement. It is finished, has a big laundry room, a big storage closet, a bedroom, and a living area. It’s the same size as the upstairs of our house and is a nice addition. We looked at many houses, and the ones without basements we pretty much through out of the picture. We wanted the extra space badly.

If you don’t have a finished basement, then the cost may be substantial if you cannot do it yourself. My friend was able to pay someone she knew $10,000 for her basement to be completely remodeled. It was well worth it for her though. She has a home built in the early 1900′s, and basements back then are not the same as unfinished basements today. Everything had to be gutted. They built a bar, bathroom with a hot tub, and a play area. It is very, very nice and definitely increased the value of their home greatly.

4. Paint

A little paint can go a long way. Painting the walls inside your house, trim, baseboards, and the exterior of your home is always a good idea. Fresh paint nearly always makes a house look a lot better, and is a relatively cheap fix compared to other things you could do to your house.

Have you tried any of these ways to increase the value of your home?

4 Ways to Save Money in College

Michelle —  January 24, 2013 — 2 Comments

College can be very expensive. Whether you are going to a local community college, local public university, private university, graduate school, getting your doctorates and every other possible thing you can do in order to further your education, it all adds up. I know first hand, I finished my Finance MBA with nearly $40,000 in debt (altogether, two undergraduate degrees and one masters degree).

Even though I did graduate with a decent amount of debt, I could have had a lot more. I worked full-time throughout college and had no help from parents, as my dad (and the sole provider of our family) passed away when I was 18. I moved out right after high school and had to find a place to live, and ended up moving into a house that I rented.

I worked 40 hours a week and took 21 to 24 credit hours a semester. I was super tired, but it was all worth it in the end when I graduated with TWO degrees in only 2.5 years. I then went on (after a 6 month break) to get my Finance MBA. It took one year to get and is the majority of my debt, as the graduate schools around here do not give any scholarships if you decide to work at the same time (yup, not a single one, I called them all).

My undergraduate school was around $30,000 a year I believe. I received around $20,000 in scholarships every year which was definitely a blessing. Without the scholarships I would not have been able to attend. It would have been more but I decided not to live in the dorms, as it was around an extra $10,000 to $15,000 a year to live on campus.

Here are some ways for you to save money while in college:

1. Don’t take out more in student loans than you need.

When you get that letter in the mail that states how much you are approved for in student loans, do you usually take the full amount or just take enough to cover what you actually need for school? Most people just take the full amount and pocket the rest. This is a mistake! You might think you need that TV or those new clothes, but you don’t. Try to reserve your student loans just for your actual schooling costs.

I did fail at this one time. I took out more than I needed. I wasn’t thinking and used it on stupid extra spending. I still regret it and I have nothing to show for it!

2. Apply for scholarships.

Most schools offer scholarships. Make sure you apply to these. Apply for both scholarships directly at your school and also private scholarships as well. Scholarships can add up, and even an extra $100 is something that you did not have before.

Like i said above, I received a little less than $20,000 a year from scholarships. None of it was private scholarships though. All of it was directly from my university. I bet I could have applied for private scholarships and received some of those as well.

3. Look for a job that will pay a part of your tuition.

There are many jobs out there that ask that you only work full-time, and then they will pay for your tuition (or at least a part of it). This is something that I did not do while in college, but I still regret it. If a job is willing to pay $2,000 per year for 4 years and all you have to do is do your normal job, then take it!

4. Buy textbooks cheaply.

Textbook prices can add up very quickly. If you go to your university’s book store, I can almost guarantee that the prices are much higher than what you would see online. So rule number 1, try not to buy at your school’s book store. Look online first and compare prices.

Rule #2? Try and buy used textbooks. Most of these are probably in decent condition. I’ve always had good luck with this and the cost is almost always much, much cheaper than buying a brand new textbook.

How did you save money in college?

Asking for a raise can definitely be difficult. You don’t know whether your manager/employer will say yes, no, wonder why you’re asking and so on. You don’t want to feel embarrassed either. The best thing to do is prepare yourself! You should do your research, know your accomplishments, practice, respect your employer and also be realistic.

Everyone knows that the economy isn’t the greatest. Some companies are laying employees off while other companies are thriving in this economy. There are also many other factors that should be kept in mind when you are asking for your raise.

Below are tips on how to get the raise you want and deserve:

1. Research.

What are people who are in similar positions as you earning per year? Try to look at similar industries and companies. Look at their responsibilities and everything that you can possibly find out.

Also, think about what you make altogether already. If you compare yourself to someone else in a similar position, but don’t take into account the different benefits that each position offers, you are not being honest with yourself and your employer. Fully total everything together: salary, bonuses, commission, life insurance, health insurance, perks such as freebies, and so on. It is said that they “extras” in you job can be worth around 20% to 30% of your actual position pay altogether.

2. Make a list of your accomplishments.

This is a big step! Going into a salary negotiation meeting and not knowing what you have done for the company recently or in the past year is a mistake. Try making a list and adding to it whenever there is a worthy addition. Review what you have done and possibly make copies of this for the people who you are negotiating with.

3. Practice.

Practice makes perfect. Practice what you are going to say. Think about any questions that they might ask you and practice saying why you are worth the raise. Sounding confident is key when asking for a raise. If you don’t sound or seem confident, then why should they have confidence in you?

4. Try not to threaten your employer.

What a lot of people do is throw things in their employer’s face. They might tell their employer that they can do better elsewhere or that they’ve already started applying for other positions at other companies. This is most likely not the best decision for you.

Some employers will take this as that you will continue to threaten them into the future. Also, that you will take the next best thing, and that you are not in it for the long-term. So before you throw something threatening at your employer, really think about it and what you want to do.

5. Be realistic.

Asking for a 100% raise when you are already topped out in your position and everyone else in your position is making way less than you is probably not realistic. Asking for something too high that you might not deserve might result in you not looking the smartest, and it might make you look like you’re trying to take advantage of the company.

Also, if you’re company is not currently doing the greatest financially, think of other ways that you can get a “raise.” Maybe you want a couple more vacation days and that’s all that will make you happy. Truly think of what exact you want out of your salary negotiation.

Be realistic with your worth and know what skills you bring to the company.

What tips do you have for getting the raise you want?

Cars are expensive, that’s pretty much a given. Whether you buy a brand new $60,000 car or a used $5,000 car, it will most likely put some kind of a dent in your wallet. Getting the best deal is key when searching for a new car for yourself. The best deal doesn’t just apply to the dollar amount, you also want the best value and something that will not break in a couple of weeks.

Now that my fiance is a sales consultant, I feel like I know all about cars and all of the tactics that can be used. Not all salesmen are bad people! I will say that now. This is something that I believed before he became one, but now that I personally know one, I feel like I know how a dealership runs.

And while I will say that most of these will probably work for you, I also want to say that most car dealership are not making a lot of money off of your actual car purchase. Most of the time his dealership takes a loss on cars when selling them to customers, and that’s because customers these days seem to research the car buying process so much (hopefully like you!).

Car dealerships are mainly shooting for repeat business, such as with you coming back to the service department for routine maintenance and repairs.

Below are some tips so that you can get your best deal and value when buying a new car.

Plan your visit

This is a important step in the car buying process. Just going into a dealership with no plan will usually result in you leaving with an expensive car that you most likely could have bought for cheaper.

Usually at the end of the month, dealerships are trying to beat their goals and therefore will try and give you the best deals in order to get there.

Also, most believe that they should wait until the beginning of the year so that they don’t have to pay sales tax twice, however, most dealerships will take that property tax total off your car purchase if you buy in December anyways if you just ask and explain to them that if they can’t give you an equivalent discount, then you’d rather just wait until January.  And since December tends to be one of the slowest months because of the misconception of extra property tax payments, they will also most likely give you a big discount in order to get you to drive off the lot in their car.

Also, in December most car dealerships tend to try to clear their old inventory. Some car dealerships are not allowed to place the new year’s cars (such as when it’s 2013 and there are still 2012 cars on the lot) until ALL of the old cars are gone. Therefore they will most likely give you a good deal so that they can start placing new inventory on the lot.

Just ask

Now, I’m not going to say that car dealerships NEVER make any money from selling new cars, because they obviously do every now and then or they would rather just operate as mechanics and an auto body shop. However, sometimes people go into dealerships and just take the price as is and don’t even try to haggle.

One time a customer came in and was telling my fiance that she wasn’t sure about the car because of the price. He then said “well ask me for a discount and then I can ask my manager.” She said “oh really you can do that?” He then explained that unless she asks, he’s not allowed to ask for anything lower of course. So he then went and asked and she got a discount.

The only thing bad that could happen when asking for a discount is a simple no, but most of the time they will say yes and counter with SOMETHING. Something is better than nothing right?

How did you get the best price on your car?