Category Archives: Personal Finance

The Job Search (Pt.5) – eHow = More $$$

I love my job as a teaching assistant. It’s extremely challenging but unbelievably rewarding. Serving developmentally-disabled students is ideal experience for my future goals, and I haven’t felt so natural in a job for a long time. I honestly don’t believe there is a better way I could be spending the interim between undergraduate and graduate school. However, I have previously mentioned that the job does not pay much. As this is really my best opportunity to save money for my graduate expenses, I really needed an additional source of income (however small).

Naturally I went looking for online options, particularly because I had coincidentally read several blog posts in recent weeks on the topic. For example Amanda‘s guest post at The Smart College Grad and a Lifehacker.com article. I am extremely skeptical of anything that promises lots of cash for simple online work (as I believe I should be). But I did read in various articles that “content farm” work like writing for eHow.com can be worth it if you write effectively and efficiently. I’ve been a fan of writing since my high school days, so I thought I’d give it a shot. After tweaking my resume a bit to highlight my professional writing experience (which is virtually nonexistent) and spending fifteen minutes quickly creating a “tutorial” style writing sample, I applied for a writer position. Just days later I was accepted and got right to work.

There are two ways to make money through eHow: fixed fee or revenue share. Fixed fee typically pays $15 an article, which many argue is not enough. Revenue share is based on ads and traffic. Though I’ve read revenue share is a better long-term investment, I’m looking for quick cash, even if it just covers my gas expenses! Here is my experience thus far:

As of today (been a writer for eHow for one week) I have written six articles. Three have been approved and published (and yes, I have legitimately been paid for them), the other three are pending an editor’s review. So far, none of the six articles have taken me more than one hour. In my opinion, considering the $15 I make for 45-60 minutes of my time, the fixed fee seems like an alright deal. If anything, it is a better use of my time on the computer. Perhaps motivating above all is my general thirst for knowledge; which really seals the deal for me. I can get paid to spend an hour learning how to do something and then writing about it? How could I speak against such a proposition? As long as I choose articles that I know will not consume multiple hours of my time, this will continue to be an efficient way to make a few extra bucks when I get home from work. For a future broke grad student, every little bit helps!

Have you ever made money online? What did you do?

Job Search series: Part 1 – Part 2 Part 3 – Part 4 Part 5

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Tips for a Wealthy Gen-Y Retirement

Your future wealth is in your hands right now!At the tender age of 21, I began saving for retirement. If I was more financially-conscious years earlier, I would have started saving the day I was legally capable of opening an account. Since I began to think about my personal finances I’ve read dozens of articles, blogs, magazines, and books on the subject; I continue to read more every day. Thinking retrospectively, I wish the importance of saving and investing was stressed in my high school days. Though I’ve never been a big spender, at that age I never had a concept of how important growth is to accumulating wealth. Your money cannot simply sit in a savings account and subsequently provide a cushion of money for your later life. Accumulated wealth doesn’t unfold that way. Perhaps a simpler but more important concept that failed to be taught was the idea of compounding. I hope you are all educated on compounding, as I won’t get into details (if you aren’t familiar, check out The Simple Dollar’s explanation). Since opening this account, I have made a financial plan for my future, which I fully intend to accomplish (most likely once I begin a stable career post graduate school). Nevertheless, I’ve begun planning and handling my money to prepare a comfortable retirement (something that is grimly forecasted for Generation Y). If you haven’t begun already, it is never too late (but it definitely helps to start early)! Here are few (basic) tips to get you started:

1. Open a retirement account.

I’ve been amazed to hear how many people entered their 30’s, 40’s, and even 50’s without a dime towards retirement. For 20-somethings, you’re probably hoping that you’ll be in a higher tax bracket in retirement than you are now. If this is the case (although there are exceptions), a Roth IRA is right for you. In a Roth, you contribute after-tax income at your current tax rate, therefore avoiding your higher tax rate in retirement. There are several limitations on income and contributions, so before opening a Roth you should do more research to ensure it is a good fit for you.

Recommended Reading: Comparison Table from www.SavingtoInvest.com

2. Create a Budget.

What is the point of allocating your cash if you don’t know how much you need and for what? If your goal is never to touch your savings, you need to be aware of your living expenses. You should do a thorough assessment of all expenses and create a budget (a much less daunting task than many believe it to be). There are thousands of resources on the web to help you create a realistic budget that will get you on track for financial responsibility. Though budgeting is a regular responsibility, something that needs maintaining, it is a necessary part of your growth as a saver! With a budget, you can set aside enough of your income to cover expenses and any cash you want for pleasure (responsibly, of course). Anything else can be put towards your savings, retirement, or debt. There are various strategies about the order in which to contribute to these entities, and the situation varies for everyone; talk to a knowledgeable individual or a financial planner about what your best options are.

Recommended Reading: Four-Step Budget Template from Life After College

3. Read, read, read. Then adopt a plan a stick with it.

The more you read, the more you’ll be able to cater to your individual financial circumstances. Whether you start following Suze Orman, reading personal finance blogs, or listening to audiobooks, find a resource that you enjoy learning from and can effectively incorporate into your life. There is a wealth of knowledge (pun intended) out there, and the only way to absorb it is to reach out. Hopefully, if you’re like me, you’ll find that taking responsibility for your personal finances can be fun, interesting, and exciting! With time and effort you’ll see your debt (if you’ve got any) shrink, and your net worth grow. Why wait until you’re middle-aged to think about these things? Form your plan now!

Recommended Reading: Free Financial Freedom Blueprint courtesy Gen Y Wealth

These are three very basic jump-starts to your wealth-building. This list could go on and on, but there are plenty of resources out there for you to learn from. This process can be a thrilling one if you choose to make it so. You’ve got the power of your future in your hands, right now!

As there is much left to be said about this journey, please share your additional tips in the comments. We all need to learn from one another!


The Dying Art of the Garage Sale.

It occurred to me this past weekend, as I sifted through the disaster zone that is my closet, that garage sales are rapidly becoming not only inefficient but inconvenient. In an age of Amazon, eBay, and craigslist, I would never consider holding a garage sale. There is a place on the internet for the sale of nearly everything. Not only can things be listed from the comfort of your own home, but often you simply mail out the sale item. The ease of this process is undeniable, and for some people it has made the hassle of organizing a garage sale a waste of time.

Another factor working against the garage sale is the potential value of the items. In my experience, things at garage sales sell for seriously marked down prices (a matter of cents for books, perhaps dollars for larger items). For example, a book that might sell for 25 or 50 cents at a garage sale can be sold for $2, $5, or more. That’s quite an increase in profit! There are exceptions of course (many ‘Used’ books go for just 1 cent on Amazon), but a used book in perfect condition (I tend to take very good care of my books) can be sold as ‘New.’ Textbooks, in my experience, have also sold for at the very least 200% the buy-back price of school and local bookstores. Larger items (like the $70  hockey skates I just bought for $20) can be sold on your local craigslist for higher prices than would be purchased at a garage sale. They can also be sold on eBay, which has even greater potential for a higher sale price (but often includes a shipping cost).

I’ve made several hundred dollars using online sites to sell personal items and books. It has been an additional source of revenue for me over the years, and while it doesn’t inflate my bank account much, any extra money helps! I also recently read this post by Amanda over at Grad Meets World about adding additional streams of revenue to your income. In the same  day I came across this post at Lifehacker. Check it out and maybe you’ll get rich just a little bit quicker!

No longer is the garage sale a necessary way to sell things for profit. You heard it here first, I am officially abandoning it for the online marketplace! You are dead to me, garage sale.

Anyone else sell things online? What do you like/dislike about garage sales?


MacBook vs. PC

Two weeks ago I made the switch. My new MacBook Pro (5 lbs of “reliable” technology) has been great so far. I would love to know how much time in life I’m saving no longer waiting an eternity for programs to open up on my 4-year-old HP Pavilion. Though the HP still functions (barely), it was time for a change. It was, however, a big decision on many levels to invest in a MacBook Pro. First, the price is extraordinarily higher than your average laptop computer. Starting from $1,199, they run almost double the price of a run-of-the-mill PC laptop. As I’m currently unemployed, this spending presented a bit of a dilemma. However, I needed a change from PC. After years of watching them fail on others, and observing mine become dangerously slow, I was pretty intent on hopping on the Apple bandwagon to see what the hype is all about.

**I’d like to make a side-note on the Apple store. I have yet to find a flaw in the business model (aside from the inflated prices). The employees, in my experience, are all extremely pleasant and very helpful. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t work on commission (I did a little undercover work), and I think this says a lot about the type of character that Apple looks for in their employees. And a store specifically for your brand of computer? I’m not sure why Dell and HP haven’t done the same.**

Now before this sounds like a commercial (because it already does), let’s get to the logistics. The purchase came out, after taxes and the student discount, to around $1,300. Ouch. Though I felt it was a necessary purchase, there are times when I think I could have waited (at least until graduate school in the fall). Either way, I’d be paying the same price, and it’s not as if I can’t afford this; I paid the bill off in full and I’m not down to my last penny. I just hope a job comes my way soon, or I might be wishing I waited.

For those of you who are curious, a MacBook is truly a unique experience. It’s way different than the PCs many of us grew up with. Though there was a bit of a learning curve, with a few hotkeys and an open mind, I’ve already embraced my new laptop. Though compatibility issues were a concern years ago, every program I have needed thus far has a Mac version. Mac compatibility is far more pervasive than many believe. I’m also pleased because I have a machine that can better cater to my media design needs. Damn, this is so a commercial. I’ve been watching too much Mad Men. I really think this is how most Mac owners feel though, and it seems to be a feeling that many PC owners lack (me just a few weeks ago). So either Apple puts out a great product, or I’ve become a sucker like all the rest of the Apple-heads. You decide.

Mac or PC?


How To Become A Millionaire (sort of)!

Million Dollar Club Join J.Money‘s Million Dollar Club, of course! Today I officially announce my membership in the club. The purpose of the club is to create a list of habits and plans you pledge to adopt in the pursuit of your first million. Though with my undergraduate and graduate student loans, I don’t anticipate being worth $1,000,000 any time soon, making a list of goals is always a good way to stay on track. My list is as follows:

1. I will spend less than I earn each year.

2. I will contribute a portion of each paycheck to my IRA, student loans, and savings account before I consider my spending money.

3. I will read more books on personal finance and implement the wealth-building strategies I learn.

4. I will take a few days to consider any purchase that is not a necessity.

5. I will never acquire any credit card debt.

6. I will stick to all of the budgets that I set for myself.

7. I will contribute as much as possible to any employer-matched retirement accounts.

8. I will develop a total financial plan at the beginning of each year.

Given this list, I’ll be using 101in365.com to keep me motivated and working towards my goals (not all of which are financial, but many of which are). While I’m not naïve (I know this list won’t be solely responsible for my first million), I would like to use it to check back every few months to make sure I am maintaining the promises I have made.

So what do you say? Are you ready to make your first million?

What would be on your list?


5 (Actually Useful) Tax Resources

2011 marks the first year I will independently file my taxes. As a college graduate, and gaining ground towards my financial independence every day, it seems appropriate for me to learn the ominous process of filing federal and state taxes for myself. Just days ago, I had no idea where to begin, what I had to do, or how to do it. I received my W-2 recently, and though the information seemed self-explanatory, it didn’t offer any information regarding what to do with it. I felt uninformed and ignorant, as if I had missed out on vital knowledge everyone else seemed to have. This, however, is certainly not the case, especially in my age group. I began to do a lot of research on both federal and state filing processes. I googled, asked more experienced adults, and ultimately accumulated a list of some resources I found to be valuable and informative. Here is a list of five of the most useful tax resources I found and used:

1. IRS Tax Assistance Hotline. (1-800-829-1040).

Believe it or not, the IRS actually makes an attempt to reach out to taxpayers with questions on virtually anything tax-related. This service is completely free, and after a very brief pre-recorded menu, you will actually be transferred to a real person. You may have to wait on hold for 10-15 minutes, but it’s worth the wait if you have several questions to ask. All phone assistants are trained IRS volunteers, and in my experience were very helpful!

2. H&R Block Free 1040EZ Federal Return Filing.

H&R Block is offering FREE filing for anyone with simple tax returns (1040EZ). This includes you if your filing status is Single, you claim no dependents, don’t itemize, have no mortgage, and have an annual income below $100,000. This opportunity is truly a great one if you generally pay a professional to file your return, and you meet the requirements above. Even better, you get to sit down with someone in person, in case that’s something that you’re more comfortable with.

3. Mint.

No doubt, you’ve seen Mint appear on almost every money-management and finance tool list you’ve ever seen. That’s because it is just that good. If you’re comfortable with Mint’s privacy policies and security measures, there’s no doubt it’s one of the best resources on the web. Even now during tax season, Mint has partnered with TurboTax to offer a few helpful widgets. You can estimate your tax refund by entering some basic information. It also allows you the option to file with TurboTax through Mint.

4. TaxHead: Which tax form is right for you?

1040? 1040A? 1040EZ? With three different 1040 forms, and many more to complete, I wasn’t sure which form was best for me! This tool proved useful as I tried to figure out which form was the most suitable for my filing needs. If you’re in the same boat, and filing for the first time this year, be sure to check out this handy tool.

5. Adults/Parents/Family

I am not including this because I lack a fifth resource (trust me, there are plenty more), but because some of the most important information I received while learning about filing came from these people. Many adults have been filing their tax returns for years, possibly decades. Though the process may not seem so transparent to a beginner’s eye, it is usually done like clockwork by older adults. They can possibly serve as the best and most personal guides as you learn about your tax responsibilities, so don’t forget that they’re there!

If you’ve filed on your own before, what tax tools have you used?


The Hidden Value of a Paperclip.

"The" paperclip.

The original paperclip.

Kyle MacDonald. Ring a bell? You might know him, or not know him at all, as the man who traded a paperclip for a house. The Canadian blogger posted in 2005 requesting a trade for his red paperclip. His first trade was for a “fish-shaped pen,” which he promptly exchanged for a hand-crafted doorknob. Next came a camp stove, followed by a generator. The generator was traded for an “instant party,” which was passed on for a snowmobile. Kyle would continue to trade for larger and more valuable items until nearly one year later when (on his fourteenth exchange) he traded a movie role (yes, you read that correctly) for a Canadian farmhouse. Kyle Macdonald, your “average-joe” blogger, had in approximately one year traded a paperclip from his desk for a house.

I tell you this story to illustrate the idea that we are all very capable of much more than we imagine we are. The same principle can also be applied to our possessions. The objects around us have all subconsciously been assigned a value. Kyle’s goal from the beginning was to barter his paperclip for a house. He understood the potential that his idea had, and it is because he reshaped the value of his object that he was able to achieve what he did.

I’ve found it important to take some time (if just once a year) to reevaluate my possessions. Much of what we toss in the closet or bury in our drawers has more value than we attribute to it. Much of it may not hold much weight in our minds, but might be useful to others. Kyle seems to have understood these relationships, and used them to earn him his house. The story is a testament to the hidden value of what we own. So I offer the following tips to discovering the hidden value of your own paperclips:

  1. CLEAN. Your closets, drawers, shelves, and anything else that serves as a magnet for clutter.
  2. SEPARATE objects that are to be kept from those that are not. If you are indecisive about anything, put it in the “don’t keep” pile. You’ll know immediately if an object is a necessity or not.
  3. EVALUATE your objects on the web (using tools such as eBay, Amazon, etc). Assign them cash values. This will give you an idea of what they’re worth to the general population.
  4. GET CREATIVE. Can any of these objects be used in creative ways to generate a better return then selling them? This may require a lot of thought, but you may surprise yourself at the potential of your possessions. You also have to move past the idea of appealing to everyone, as it’s a select few who will really value what you’ve got.
  5. DONATE. When in doubt, nearly everything in your “don’t keep” pile would be treasured by somebody, somewhere. Find outlets to donate some things (e.g. Salvation Army, Goodwill), or list them on your local “Freecycle” website.

In terms of our financial assets, it could prove useful to assess if our money is being used as effectively as possible. Is our money working as hard as possible for us? Keep an eye out for a hidden gem in your portfolio, one you might otherwise miss. Take advantage of it. You won’t regret it…

…and you could be the next Kyle MacDonald.

Did you find any hidden gems (physical or financial) in 2010?

For more information on the One Red Paperclip project, visit the blog here or the Wikipedia page here.