Monday, June 30, 2008

Minor Interruption

I was in an accident last night. No broken bones thankfully but I am pretty banged up, have a concussion and cuts and bruises. I have my arm in a sling and can only type one-handed for a couple of days. Please excuse the radio silence for day or two.
Also, if you own a scooter and don't wear a helmet, please reconsider. Mine saved my life last night.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Weekly Financial Round Up 06/29

I did so well this week until Thursday when I finally succumbed to peer pressure and spent money. Almost all of the money for food was on friday when I bought three separate meals.

Spent - $48.66

Entertainment - $15.16
Food - $33.50

Extra Money Made - $70.50

Etsy - $47.50
Transcription - $20
Surveys - $3

At least I'm still making more than I'm spending, but I've been charging things on my credit card for convenience and that needs to, again, not happen. I think $20 was an unrealistic goal last week. Lets try spending no more than $30 this time around.
I have got to get better this week. And thats it on the movie front, no more until Dark Knight unless someone else is buying!

Heres how I did last week:

Weekly Spending - June 22nd

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Saturday Handy Tip - Power Strips for Your TV

Right now we are running our air conditioning a lot. We live in the South and have very big windows, so our power bill is likely to be very high. I'm trying to cut corners where ever I can, so I've hooked up the TV, DVD Player and Wii to a power strip. Because these are all machines that are on standby, they drain off a little power all day every day. So now they are on a strip I just hit the off switch for all of them when I am not using them, and turn them back on when I am. It probably saves me a few pennies a day, but as you can tell from my Twelve Cents article, that can really make a difference!

Previous Handy Tips

June 21st - Writers Block
June 14th - Salad Dressing

Friday, June 27, 2008

Five Ways to Entertain Yourself for Free (Or Cheap)

It's really hard to find new and entertaining things to do when you are on a budget. I find myself going to movies or coffee shops to get out of the house, which is not the most frugal thing to do. 
So here a few things that I would recommend that you can do to entertain yourself cheaply. 

1. Urban Exploration
Pick an area of your city or town that you have never been to and go and explore it on foot. If you are a budding photographer, take a camera. Look for nice trees, odd mailboxes, strangely named stores. 

2. Join a Meetup Group
There are group for just about every topic in just about every area. Maybe you could join a book club or a philosophical discussion group, or take tours of peoples gardens. The possibilities are really endless. 

3. Go to College Theatre
Most colleges put on one or two theatrical productions a year, and most of the time they are free or cheap. College productions may not have elaborate sets and costumes, but they tend to take more risks with production types, so you can often see some meaty material or a new interpretation of a classic. Also, colleges tend to draw smaller crowds, so the cast and crew will often greatly appreciate your presence. 

4. Fly a Kite
No one seems to fly kites anymore. It's sad because kite flying can be done anywhere that you have an open space, and it is a lot of fun! If you want to invest in a more expensive stunt kite I would recommended finding friends to split the cost with you. If you are looking for something a little less expensive, though, you can try something like this well rated Rainbow Kite.

5. Volunteer
Something in your community is bound to need volunteers. Be it a community center, a park, a zoo, a theatre, a school, an art gallery. This is a great way to meet people and experience something different, and it's good karma too!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Progress Slowly

I have a big writing deadline coming up and I confess, I am behind.
I did want to blog about the fact that yesterday I made the decision to sell my company. I love it dearly, but I feel like I've gotten what I wanted out of it and now it's time to move on.
If anyone would like to purchase it, feel free to contact me. Either leave me a comment or email me. And feel free to pass my information along to anyone you think might be interested. I am completely open to offers.
It's interesting that when I hit a financial bump I decided to lock down all areas of my life, but the idea of selling something I have spent four years building fills me with hope and excitement, and could kick start my way to meeting some very important goals.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Give One Get One Laptops and Philanthropy

I was at one of my regular haunts in Atlanta yesterday and spotted someone with an OLPC XO-1 Laptop. If you haven't heard about this program, the idea is to provide relatively inexpensive laptops to children in developing countries to enhance their education. These computers are tiny, and yet they act as word processing tools, are internet capable with built in wireless, and are evidently quite functional. They run the Linux operating system, which is an open-source operating system that anyone can edit and manipulate.
Although the laptops are costing around $140 right now, the idea seems to be to get them down to a cost of $100 per machine, making them much more affordable than other new laptops, which can run anywhere from $600 to $2500 depending on the product.
The gentleman who owned the XO-1, Alex, had purchased the laptop through the Give One Get One program that appears to have only been available for a few months in 2007. The deal was that for $400 you purchased two laptops; one for yourself and one for a child in a developing country. Alex seemed really happy with the idea that he was able to give a laptop to a child somewhere. He is also working on developing programs for the machine, though having just met him, I didn't ask him to go into too much detail.
I admire this level of philanthropy. Not only has Alex given a laptop to a child he will never meet, but he is also working on ways to enhance the availability of programs for the machine.
I love stories like this. I love people with brilliant ideas for making the world a better place and for helping children grow. I'm very impressed with people who become a part of it.
It makes me questions my own judgement. Maybe my laptop purchase was extravagant last year. Maybe I should have opted for something cheaper. Maybe I shouldn't have purchased a fancy phone. A lot of theories I have seen about what to do with your money state that you should spend a third, save a third and give a third away. I'm not in a position to do this, although I have read blogs where people do this with $3 each day. It's a nice idea and one that hopefully I will revisit again someday. But for now I feel the burden of my lack of philanthropy weighing on my soul.
I could do better.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Borrowing Paintings : An Interesting Solution to a Decorating Problem

Recently I moved into a new apartment. It's our last hurrah.... a huge loft with big walls and lots of light. Unfortunately, the walls are very empty and it certainly shows. 
Purchasing large pieces of art to fill the walls would enhance our meagre art collection, but it would seriously damage our finances. Large paintings go from $200 to thousands of dollars, and we would need at least six. 
I have a friend who is a very talented local artist. I am lucky to already have one of his pieces. It was abandoned by my brother-in-law and we rescued it and have proudly displayed it since. I was chatting with my friend the other day and had asked him to trade me another painting in exchange for his final payment on the car I had sold him. He came back to me with another idea a few days later. 
He has some large paintings that that take up a lot of space in his house, and he is going to loan them to me while we live in this big loft, and perhaps I will be able to replace them once our finances are more stable. So it seems we are turning our loft into an art gallery. 
What do you think of this? Is this the future of decorating on a budget?

Monday, June 23, 2008

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Inspiration from The Most Amazing Places

I saw something amazing yesterday. Now, this might be the kind of thing that only has a profound effect on me, being the person who gets hormonal and cries over toilet tissue commercials, but I wanted to share it to see if it might have an effect on you too. 

Matt Harding is a mini internet celebrity that I hadn't heard of until last night. He spent 14 months traveling the world to make a video of himself doing a particular dance in front of landmarks, with people from that area.

Why is this inspiring to me? Well, because this is a man who has traveled the world and gotten people to dance with him,  just for the hell of it. For me, sometimes I feel that life is a series of connections, life is about the people who we meet and the people who we have the potential to impact. There is a tiny thread between myself and everyone I've ever met. Matt Harding, however, has a connection with thousands of people across the globe, and everyone who was involved in the making of this video now has something in common, and probably had so much fun doing it. 
I've done a fair few things in my life thus far that are out of the ordinary, but I doubt I've ever had a profound inspirational impact on anyone though my actions. I want very much to travel the world, and to meet people from every country. I want to know what Brazilian food is like, I want to see Thailand, I want to swim in the Great Barrier Reef.  I want to connect with different cultures and explore the world. I want to do something that will one day inspire someone to write a blog post about me. Thanks, Matt, from the bottom of my heart, for reminding me what I want my life to be and for giving me a goal.

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Weekly Financial Round Up 06/22

This was another week where I spent too much money on food and designer drinks. I want to spend no more than $20 next week. I have enough money to pay my next rent check, but it's tight and I can't take any money out of my account. I have charged a little of this to my credit cards and that also has to stop. Thankfully though, my extra money goal for June has been hit a week early. I will increase this for next month, bearing in mind again that I only pull about 20% of the Etsy money into my bank account. The rest is reinvested.

Spent - $34.10

Gas - $3.81
Entertainment - $9
Food - $10.42
Designer Drinks- $10.87

Extra Money Made - $86.07

Selling DVD's - $21.07
Etsy - $65

Extra Money Needed for June - Goal reached. 
Goal for July will be $250

Previous Weekly Financial Round Up

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Saturday Handy Tip - Overcoming Writers Block

Stuck for Writing ideas?
If you're writer like me, every so often you'll wake up in the morning with no idea what you are going to write about for that day. Because I have several topics that I write about, there are usually a few different things going on in any given topic that I can be inspired by. I have certain steps, though, that I will regularly take.

My Family and Friends
I will often message my friends and family and ask them what they would like to read about today. This is completely hit or miss, and sometimes that answers are peculiar (e.g. Zach and the "Just write about Canadians" comment). Sometimes, though, they wil think of great stuff that I either write about that day or save for the future.
The news is often inspiring. I can usually find something to either rile me up or make me think. I find it better to read the website than to watch the channel, though.  

My Google Reader
I subscribe to many other blogs in my google reader. A few of them have people who will often read someone another blog and then write a response on their own site. Those can often be inspiring and sometimes I will feel like commenting to. It's like having a giant blogging conversation. 

I am a member of a few forums and often what they are discussing is something that I would like to be discussing. It's completely worth checking General Discussion areas for hot topics. 

More Saturday Handy Tips

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Wedding Shawl, or How Much I Love My Sister

I'm going to take a little step away from my usual topics today to talk about something I did that I am very proud of. My beautiful sister Michelle got married last month in England. My wedding gift to her, other than flying over to be a bridesmaid, was a Wedding Shawl that I made for her. In some traditions, women make a shawl for their wedding day, and then that is what they wrap their first baby in when it is born. The Shawl should be light enough to pass through a wedding ring. These are usually intricate lace shawls, and this was the first one I have ever made. It took five months to make, mostly because I worked on it in bursts. 
I'm really happy that I managed to create this and I hope my sister keeps and loves it. 

This is the finished shawl before it was blocked.

And here it is after it has been blocked. The pattern is called Kiri, and it ended up being nearly six feet wide and about three or four feet deep.

Knitting is a huge source of release and relaxation for me. I love making things for other people, especially my family. I feel like being able to create things and put time into things that are different and unusual gives me an artistic outlet that I wouldn't otherwise get.
I may also have purchased the yarn to make one of these for me, though I believe I may have to wait a month or so before I've gotten over the last one.

From a monetary perspective, knitting lace as a gift is a very inexpensive way to give people a very beautiful gift. The yarn for this shawl cost me about $10. True I put in about 50 or 60 hours of my time, but this is my hobby and I enjoyed the time that I spend doing it. Besides, imagine how much people spend on golf.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Five Things You Can Do Without

I've been on financial "Lock Down" for a few weeks now as I work harder at straightening out my finances. I know I'm not the only person who has wants over needs that prove to be money leaks. Here is the list of the five things I'm cutting out of my life.

1. Designer Drinks
Starbucks, Caribou, other coffee shops. All of them charge around $3 to $4 for a drink. This tip is at the top of everyones list because so many of us do it. You really don't need that Triple Venti Three Pump Vanilla Latte with 2% Milk and Extra Foam. You just want it. 
This one will be quite hard for me because I am the kind of person that likes to work in coffee shops

2. Bottled Water
It's bad for the environment, it's bad for your wallet. Invest in a Pur or Brita Tank or Pitcher and buy two or three travel water bottles. Be sure to run them through the dishwasher regularly. We have this one.

3. Credit Cards with Annual Fees
I was enticed by the offer of 15,000 bonus Skymiles for opening up a new credit card. They also waived the annual fee of $85 for me the first year. Now I have the card and am getting the annual fee, and I know that I will never be able to spend enough to get 15,000 Skymiles again (and if I am spending that much on my credit cards, I have bigger problems that affording a plane ticket to San Francisco). I'm closing the account and switching to a credit card with good Cash Rewards. 

4. Going to Movies
Yes it's nice to go and see movies, but with all of the rental options available, isn't it better to just grab all of your friends in someone's living room and hang out and watch a movie? Everyone gets the same amount of entertainment at a low cost, you can bring your own food, and you get to sit on couches instead of uncomfortable chairs with chewing gum all over them and a sticky floor. 

5. A Gym Membership
Unless you honestly go three times a week, find other ways to exercise. Go running or walking, go for bike rides with friends. Try yoga or pilates at home. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Besides, spending time outside really is good for you and Vitamin D and fresh air are wonderful things.

On a side note, the Finance Fiesta Carnival is today and I'm included. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


I have added a new feature to the blog. It is a widget called Skribit and it allows readers to suggest or request article topics. If there is something you would like to read an article about on any of the topics in my About Me sections, or anything else you would find interesting, please feel free to make a suggestion! Just click on the text that says "What Should I Write About" and it will allow you to enter a suggestion. 
I look forward to seeing what people would like to read!

Twelve Cents a Day

Twelve cents isn't a lot of money. Really, it's pocket change, and many would scoff at such a tiny amount. But to me it's progress.

I get twelve cents every day for doing absolutely nothing. 3 cents is interest from my ING Saving account, which has 3% APR and 9 cents is interest from my Prosper investments, which have an average of 17% APR. 

The interest that I gain from both of these amounts is constantly increases as I add to the principle investment, as well. But even if we don't count me saving extra money, it's still a huge building block and I greatly value it.

You see, if I take that interest and only that interest, and put it into a savings account at 3% APR that compounds monthly, after 5 years I would have $236.69. Ten years would be $511.49. 
And in 30 years, when I'd like to retire, it would be $2,132.60. Thats not bad for twelve cents day that I do nothing to obtain. 

Of course, by the time I retire because of inflation that will probably be the cost of a bagel. Maybe with cream cheese.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Guide to Using Prosper - Borrowing is a person to person lending site that is growing in popularity by leaps and bounds.
With the credit crisis in full swing, average people are being refused loans by banks, especially people with less than perfect credit. Some of these people turn to credit cards as their only option to straighten out their finances, but some turn to sites like Prosper.

How to Get a Loan

Prosper is a Person to Person lending site, meaning real people lend other real people money.
If you are a Borrower, you sign up for an account and Prosper verifies your identity and checks your credit history. It pulls your revolving balance, how many lines of credit you have, how long you have had credit for, any delinquencies or bankruptcies, how many credit inquiries you have had in the last six months, and your debt to income ratio. After pulling all of this information it assigns you a credit grade from AA to E. There is also an HR or High Risk credit grade.

Next, you set up a loan listing. This is similar to setting up an auction listing. You write about what you need the loan for and why you are good candidate. You also include information about your monthly earnings and expenses. This enables people to make sure that you can afford to repay the loan. You then select your loan amount, between $1,000 and $25,000, and the interest rate you wish to start the listing with. It is often a good idea to start a listing with a higher interest rate than you would like in order to attract bidders. Also, ask friends and family for endorsements. There is a system where people can endorse you on Prosper and having other people vouch for you can increase lenders confidence in your loan. It's even better if they are Prosper members, and even better than that if they can also bid on your loan.

When you post your listing, lenders are then able to bid on it. The minimum bid is $50 and they can bid on your loan at an interest rate of their choosing, so long as it is at or below the rate you started your listing at.
After your loan has enough bids to cover the cost of the loan, it is considered "Funded". This is where the fun part starts. People can now bid your loan down, meaning if they want a piece of your loan, they will bid a lower interest rate and the overall interest rate of your loan will start to drop. It's similar to eBay where high bidders push out lower bidders, but the high bidders are the ones submitting the lowest interest rates.

At the end of your listing if your loan is not funded, it disappears and you can start over. There are no penalties for this. If your loan is funded, you are given the opportunity to accept it, then Prosper reviews your information and deposits the money in your back account (minus their fee).

5 Tips for a Better Loan Listing

1. Include a picture. If your loan looks more interesting when scrolling through a list of loans, you are more likely to get bids.

2. Use a grown up title. "Consolidating Credit Card Debt" is better than "++OMG Pleese Look I Need Money Now!!!1!!!1!*". Trust me.

3. Include a list of your income and expenses, and if you are consolidating debt include the balances of your credit cards and what the interest rates are. It is likely people will ask you this anyway.

4. If you have delinquencies, explain them in the listing and note whether the loan will be used to pay them off.

5. Spell and grammar check your listing. Treat it like a job application and make sure it is detailed and well presented. Make sure everything is coherent and explained.

Paying Back Your Loan

Prosper requires you to make 36 monthly payments, the first of which is due a month after your loan is dispersed. Your payments can be set to automatic withdrawal, but you can make payments manually or early very easily through the Prosper system.
One of the interesting components of the Prosper system is that it displays the due date of your final payment, and what they estimate that payment will be. Any time you make an early payment or a payment for an amount greater than your minimum, it recalculates that final payment so you can instantly see the good that you have done.
If you miss a payment, you are charged a late fee.
When you make a payment on your loan, that payment is broken down and deposited into the accounts of the people that bid on your loan.
So the money you pay and the interest that you pay will go into the pockets of real people.
You can have a maximum of two loans with Prosper for a maximum of $25,000 borrowed. Depending on your credit grade, you must have made on time payments for 6-12 months before you can apply for a second loan.

I ran a $3,000 Prosper loan for ten days, and it closed at an interest rate of 11.8%. I used this loan to pay off my scooter loan which was at a higher interest rate, and to pay off a portion of a credit card which also had a high interest rate. After I am eligible for a second loan, I plan to consolidate all of my credit cards into a Prosper loan and probably refinance the first loan. I hope to get an even lower interest rate the second time around.

A Handy Tip

If you get a Prosper loan, when the money is dispersed into your account go ahead and make the first payment on your loan. That will give you a safety net on your loan payments. Continue to make each payment a month early and that way if anything ever goes wrong with your finances, you have a month of breathing room to make your loan payment.

I will be writing a guide to Lending on Prosper soon. Feel free to ask any questions!

To get a sign up bonus for joining Prosper, go here.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - A Review

When a twelve-year-old girl came up to me crying and asking me if I wanted to borrow this book, I couldn't refuse. She had just finished the story and was so struck by it that she wanted to pass it on for someone else to read. I was hesitant when left alone with the book, as it wasn't really my genre, but as I progressed into it I was amazed by how heartbreakingly beautiful it was.

The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel Meminger, a girl who is raised in Germany during World War II. Her life is torn apart when her mother sends her to a foster home and then loses contact with her. When she first arrives at her new home on Himmel Street, she is haunted by the death of her six year old brother and struggles with her new surroundings and new family.

Liesel finds herself attracted to books, even though she cannot read, which she "steals" through various conventional and unconventional means. Though books are a continuing theme, this story is more about her realtionships with the people that come into and out of her life.

This book is written in a unique and innovative format. Certain points are differently presented to make them more poignant or draw attention to their importance. In some cases, we get to see the drawings and paintings by the people in Liesel's life.

The whole story is narrated by Death, but not in a tacky way. It seems to present Death as a hopeful yet sad onlooker as he gently carries the souls of the lost away in his arms while keeping an eye on the life of The Book Thief.

The history in this play is mostly accurate to the best of my knowledge. It is a realistic presentation of Germany during the war and of the lives of the people impacted by it. The story is rich and well-told, the ending is devastating and brilliant, and the book is gripping, particularly towards the latter half.

This book is a bestseller, currently ranking at the top of Amazon's children's book list, though this is not a book that I would plass in that category. It is probably one of, if not the best book I have read this year, and I was almost sad to pass it back to the twelve-year-old girl who owned it.

4.8 out of 5. Highly recommended.

Carnival of Personal Finance is Up

The Carnival of Personal Finance, which I have an article in, has been posted. There are a lot of other very worthwhile articles included in the Carnival so I would highly recommend checking it out!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Weekly Financial Round Up

This was a bit of a naughty week for me. I did a little spending that I shouldn't have done. Mostly, it was on eating out, some of which was not controllable. Then a concert came up that we really wanted to go to. I could have done much better though. I did manage to get to June 10th without spending a penny. 

Spent - $81.36

Books - $11.58
Entertainment - $22.50
Food - $37.28

Extra Money Made - $79.50 

$73.50 - Etsy

This may look like it all evened out, but generally I only pull 20% or less of what I make out of Etsy. The rest goes in to shipping subscriptions and purchasing ingredients. So yes, rough week. 
Extra Money Needed to Make in June Remaining : $43

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Saturday Handy Tip - Salad Dressing Hack

Saturday is handy hint day!

Salad dressings are generally high in calories and preservatives. They aren't overly cheap, and they tend to go bad after a few months. Avoid buying salad dressing and instead invest in some good quality extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Pour a little of each over your salad right before you eat it. It gives the salad extra flavor, is much healthier, and is inexpensive. These two ingredients can also be used in other cooking and they both have long shelf lives. 


Friday, June 13, 2008

The Importance of an Emergency Fund

If you are living paycheck to paycheck you may also be living in constant fear that something is going to go wrong and you won't be able to pay your bills. Maybe your car tire will blow out as you are driving to work, or something will happen to an animal that needs to go to the vet, or perhaps you'll get sick. The worst thought is that you could potentially lose your job and lose that paycheck entirely. 
This is where having an emergency fund comes in. Everyone, no matter how secure your job, should have or be working towards having a minimum of three months worth of living expenses saved up. This should sit in an easily accessible interest bearing savings account, like an ING account. 
In the event that something happens and you need more than a couple of hundred dollars for it, this is your safety net. Yes, you could charge emergencies on your credit card, but then if you can't pay your balance with your next check, you will be charged interest on it. 

So why establish an emergency fund if you need to pay off debt? Shouldn't that money go towards something you are being charged interest on?
Well, it's a good point, but not really. Think of it this way.... if you lose your job or are unable to work, how will the minimum payments on those debts get paid? You would get slapped with late fees and it would damage your credit. It is better to have some way of at least keeping your head above water. 

In order to establish an emergency fund, figure out how much you need to cover your living expenses in a month. Be sure to include not only your bills, but expenses like food and transportation. You should aim to save between three and six months worth of expenses. 
Then, open a specific savings account. Again, I recommend ING as they have a good interest rate and the ability to open sub accounts that you can designate for certain purposes. 
Next put 5% of your paycheck immediately into this account. Don't round down. Even if it is an odd number, put in every penny of that 5%. I get paid weekly and I receive the same amount every week, so I have an automatic transfer going into my ING account. 
In the event that you get a raise, not only should you recalculate the amount that you are saving, but you should also raise it by 1%. You'll still be getting a financial benefit from your raise, and you will be able to hit your emergency fund goal even sooner.
Once you have reached your goal, either keep saving and put the extra into a high interest CD, or focus your attention back on paying off your debt.

Another piece of advice I was recently given was that once I reach my emergency fund goal I should continue saving but put half of it into my savings account and half of it into a Roth IRA. As my company has no retirement plan, it would probably be wise for me to start one. 

I've already had to pull from my emergency fund once as I had to have a cavity filled and it left me short on my rent for the month. I still have a way to go before I will have my 3 months of living expenses saved, but the progress I am making is very encouraging. 

If you would like a referral to open an ING Savings account, which has a $25 sign up bonus, please don't hesitate to email me at

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tax Cuts for the Wealthy

Barack Obama and John McCain have both submitted their tax policy proposals and there is a very noticeable difference between the two. 

McCain appears to be vying for an average cut on taxes across the board, while Obama has proposed both cuts and increases depending on your income level. 
If a person earns less than $19,000 a year, under McCain you would receive a $19 tax cut. 
Under Obama you would have a $567 tax cut. Although we are working with relatively low numbers here, think about how much those low income families need that tax break. If you don't have a lot of money, $567 can make the difference in your ability to procure health insurance for your child. It can feed a family for a month or two. To many low income people it is a lot of money. 

On the other end, if a person earns more than $ 2.9 million a year, under McCain you would receive a $269,364 tax cut. Under Obama, your taxes would increase by $701,885.
The breaking point under Obama's plan is an earning of $227,000 or more. Everyone who earns less than that will get a tax cut, and everyone who earns more will get a tax increase. 

I believe Obama is on the right track here. He's giving poorer people a break and making wealthier people compensate, though I do confess the numbers seem extreme.
Remember, though, that only 0.1% of the population is in the $2.9 Million category. 

I believe that McCain is way off track. He is giving the largest tax cuts to the people who make the most money. This does nothing to boost the financial progress of the low and middle classes. I am not a fan of income tax in general, but if we do have to make people pay it, isn't it better that it comes from people that will still have enough money to feed their families and buy medicine regardless? 

Overall, both plans could potentially increase the national deficit. Over 10 years, Obama's plan would increase the deficit by up to $3.3 Trillion, while McCain's plan would increase it by up to $4.5 Trillion. Most tax changes don't stay in place permanently, though, and it takes time to implement them. 

I believe that if you are just thinking about the everyday lives of people, Obama's plan would have the greater positive impact on the most people. However, this does mean asking wealthier people to make financial concessions for the "greater good". There are certainly arguments for and against both plans. For now, though, I believe in the greater good so I will side with Barack Obama. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Port in the Storm

Living in a big city makes me very aware of how we are a Starbucks nation. There are at least three Starbucks on Peachtree Street alone, and numerous other chain and independent coffee shops. Some people dive in for a quick latte, and others set up their laptops or read a book adn stay for hours. 

My husband and I are both the kind of people that like to work in coffee shops. We have different favorites. His is Javamonkey in Decatur, and mine is Dr Bombay's Underwater Tea Party on McClendon.
My coffee shop is my port in the storm. I work well there. I like the drinks, I like that it is lined with books that are all just 50c and the money goes to a local elementary school. I like that they have ice cream and  that all the chairs are comfy, and I like that hardly anyone knows about it. 

My generation, the internet generation, seems more comfortable spending time out of the house. It's as though we always have to be working or doing something, and to spend time at home is us being lazy.

Last night, I needed somewhere to go. I went to my coffee shop and I stayed there until they closed. I was absolutely comfortable, safe and happy. I had a great Chai tea, high speed internet, and a comfy environment. For me, it was exactly what I needed... space without space. 
I feel very relaxed and able to focus when I'm there. I don't have a cat jumping on me, and I'm not looking around at all of the housework that needs doing. The environment is one that is calm, and I can associate it with a relaxed feeling. 

So what does this say about our home environments? Why is it that we would rather be among perfect strangers than at our home? Why are we always working? Why do drinks always taste better when someone else makes them? 

Will we always rely on coffee shops as our port in the storm? Will it ever go back to being peoples houses that we gravitate to? For me, I know that at least once more this week I will be curled up on a couch with my laptop and either a chai tea or a hot chocolate will be on the table in front of me, and I will probably be writing something for this blog.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Why I Won't Buy a Hybrid.... Yet

There was a really fantastic article on Yahoo! today by Noah Buhayar and Bryan Palmintier outlining the savings gained by Hybrid cars now that gas is over $4 a gallon. 

Ever since I got rid of my car and bought a scooter, I have been fine with us being a one car family. Our old Volkswagen Golf is on it's last legs and if we were to buy a car, a Hybrid would definitely be at the top of the list because of the efficiency. There are a few reasons why I am a little reluctant to take the plunge, though. 

One of the arguments for Hybrids is the tax credit that comes with it. Back in 2005 an energy act was passed which gave purchasers substantial tax credits for buying a Hybrid car. However, these were only valid for the first 60,000 cars sold by each manufacturer. The highest performing Hybrid right now is the Toyota Prius. All the tax credits for this car are gone. If you looking for a tax credit, you are left with Hybrids from General Motors and Nissan.

Hybrid cars are not appearing on the market as used cars frequently, and when they do the resale value for these cars is very high. This isn't entirely surprising, as it makes sense that people would choose to keep these cars and that they would hold their value, but as the cost of a new Hybrid is normally around $20,000 it is likely that purchasing one would involve taking out an interest bearing loan. 

Now the math for my family. We drive, on average, no more than 15 miles in a day. That is our maximum. Add in a couple of road trips a year that might tack on an extra 400 miles makes our mileage total about 5,875 miles per year. This is much less than the national average, which is over 12,000 miles per year. 

Our current car gets approximately 26mpg according to the internet, and the Toyota Prius gets an average of 46mpg. 

Golf - 226 gallons of gas a year
Prius - 128 gallons of gas per year. 

Thats a saving of 98 gallons. At an average of $4 a gallon, we would save $392 per year.

If we took out a loan for a $23,000 car at 7% interest, we would be paying over $1,000 in interest per year. Unless we bought the car with cash, then for my family we would be paying more in interest on a new car than we would be saving in gas. If we started driving a lot more, it would be a more viable option, but as we both work within five miles of our job this is unlikely. 

It's important to really crunch the numbers for your family before making the decision to buy any new car and particularly a Hybrid. They are great cars and I am hoping that their new sales price will drop significantly over time. I'm a "Green" person and I like the idea of being more fuel efficient, but I am also a financially analytical person. I have a scooter that has much better fuel efficiency than a car, as does my husband. So for now, we'll drive our car less, our scooters more, and wait for the prices to drop.  

Monday, June 9, 2008

Querying : A Brief Introduction

When you are a Freelance Writer, one of the most important aspects of your job is querying magazines for article assignments. Here is an overview of how the system tends to work.

1. Think of an idea for an article that you would like to write. Do a little preliminary research on your topic and be sure that you can write a good solid article.

2. Grab a copy of Writer's Market and look through magazine listings to find a magazine that you feel would be interested in this article.

3. Write a short pitch for the article, usually about a page. Explain what the article is about, how it fits the magazines current readers and include a couple of quotes from a source if you have one. Be sure to make your pitch interesting and professional and include what rights are available and estimate a word count. If you are using Writer's Market, it will usually tell you what word count range the magazine normally prints. Be sure that you are pitching an article within this range.

4. Call the magazine to verify contact details for the editor that you will be sending your query to. Also verify the correct mailing address. You don't need to speak to the editor for this, the receptionist should be able to answer this question.

5. Mail the query with a Self Adressed and Stamped Envelope enclosed so that it makes them easy to get back in touch with you. I would recommend investing in some nice paper to print your query on. Some magazines do accept email queries, but I tend to shy away from this because I am always concerned that my email will be missed or ignored.

6. Anxiously check the mail every day in case one of your queries comes back. Remember that it can take anywhere from a week to six months or more for a magazine to get back to you. Editors are busy people.

From this point, several things can happen. You could be assigned the article and given a contract. You could be asked to write the article "on spec", which means that they want to see the whole thing before they commit to buying it. You could be told that they are keeping your query on file for later. You could be told that they aren't interested in this article, but would like to see more ideas. You could be told that they just aren't interested.

If you do get assigned an article, be sure to sign a contract. Also be very clear on your deadline, word count and the format with which they would like you to submit your article. I would recommend submitting an article at least 10% over the allotted word count to give them room to edit it down, and submit the article three days early. This will show your diligence and professionalism.

Things to remember about article payment:

-Some magazines pay on acceptance. This means that they should cut you a check within about thirty days of you submitting your article.

-Some magazines pay on publication. This can be months and months. Don't spend the money before you have received it.

I would recommend sending out queries often. I work on Freelance Writing in my spare time, and I send out a query a week. If I were doing this full time, I would be sending a query a day. Even if you have articles to write, I would still recommend sending out queries because when those articles are done, you won't have any more work and you'll have to go through the waiting process all over again.

Queries can be a little tedious, but they are a wonderful way of getting assigned the fun stuff!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Setting Goals

When you are on a shoe string budget, you find yourself constantly thinking about the future and trying to figure out how you can make your life work. 
I like goals. They give me something to aim for and pride when I reach them. Since we are half way through the year, I think it's time for me to set myself some goals for the rest of the year. 

I will get my net worth down to -$28,000.
That means I must knock a lot of money off of my debt and increase my savings. It's quite an ambitious goal, but I need to reach high. 

I can do this by meeting the following goals:

I will carry a $0 balance on my American Express card by the end of the year. I will also consider closing the account. 

I will have $1000 in my savings accounts. This should be split between my Freelance account and my Emergency account. 

I will have my Prosper Loan down to $2,000. 

I will carry a $0 balance on my Banana Republic Card. 

I will earn a minimum of $200 extra per month outside of my regular pay checks. This is an adjustable goal. If I hit $200 two months in a row, the goal will increase. 

These goals are important and attainable. I just have to work hard, spend little, and keep on top of things. 

Extra Money Made Yesterday:

$4.50 - Etsy

Total Minimum Left for June - $122.50 Extra

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Scooter Gang

It's heartwarming to see so many scooters on the road these days. I love mine very much. I've actually posted about it before.
One of the lovely guys at my job just bought a 125cc Kymco and another guy I work with is seriously considering it. I can't help but feel a touch of pride that I hopped on the bandwagon so early, and that they've sought my opinion to a certain degree.
Honestly, right now, I don't understand people who live in town and don't investigate getting one, especially when it could fit into their lifestyle easily. People tell me how much it is costing them to fill up their cars up, and I feel so sorry for them, but at the same time I usually try and bring up my scooter in the hope that they will consider getting one. 
I know that my finances would be even more devastated if I hadn't made the decision to sell my car and buy a 50cc Kymco Agility. I would probably be spending $150 a month on insurance and then over $100 a month on gas and maintenance. 
As it happens, I spend about $8 a month. 
I'm very concerned about rising gas prices. As a scooter owner, I know it doesn't seem like it would affect me, but the price of gas trickles down into other areas like food, which I have started to notice. The price of gas has a definite effect on people choosing to spend money on their entertainment, such as theatre. I worry that my theatre will lack sales as people try and conserve money. I know that right now, I wouldn't be able to afford. I certainly hope that I am in the minority and that people choose to continue to support the arts. I'm hoping that I am worrying over nothing. 

Extra Money Made Yesterday:

$34.40 - Etsy
$23.10 - Sold Clothes
$7 - Surveys

Total - $64.50

Total Minimum Left Needed for June - $127 Extra

Friday, June 6, 2008

Why Barack Obama Gives Me Hope

I believe in Barack Obama. 
It's nice to have something to believe in. I've lived in this country for seven years and have found myself constantly disappointed by the politics here. I feel as though the current administration has spent its time in office overreacting. 

I believe Barack Obama will pause to think. 
I feel as though this is a man that will weigh his options. I believe that he will take all angles of thought into consideration before he makes a decision. I believe that he will talk to experts and seek out other opinions before taking any kind of drastic measures. 

I believe Barack Obama cares. 
I honestly believe this man cares about changing the country for the better. I believe he cares about repairing the economy, increasing and improving our foreign relations, and fixing the damage done in the last 8 years.

I believe Barack Obama is the right President for my generation. 
I feel as though he understands the younger population. His grassroots campaign has become one of the most successful in history. His website is impeccable. He and his team honestly know what they are doing. 

I believe Barack Obama is the right age. 
I know that people speak of experience, experience, experience, but give me someone adaptable who is not completely set in their ways. Give me someone strong and vibrant and healthy with great charisma, give me someone with a pulse. 

I believe the Barack Obama can make changes. 
Hasn't he already made enough? It makes me proud to see how far this country has come from the beginning of the civil rights movement. I'm honored to see people finally recognize that it really is the person that counts, not their gender or appearance. 

I believe that Barack Obama believes in America. 
And really, thats one of the most important things to me. 

I'm a Permanent Resident here and I can't vote in the next election. Please, I'm asking with all my heart, make sure you do.

Lock Down

I think yesterday was the first day in a long while that I managed to get everything on my To-Do list done. I'm quite pleased with that!
However, I am now officially in total financial lockdown. Not a penny to be spent on non-essentials. Absolutely nothing. It's hard because I am married to someone who makes a fair bit more money than I do, and likes to spend it. He likes eating out and going for coffee or ice cream or whatever, and I have to make it clear to him that I can't buy that so if we go, he'd have to pay. We have plenty of food at home so there isn't much of a need for that kind of thing. 
We just opened Much Ado About Nothing at work last night. I'm excited for the cast because it seemed to be quite well received, and this is a cast with a lot of people that I really adore. I like when I get to see them :-)

Things to Do

Mail out Body Scrub Subscriptions (Just 3 Packages)
Write 200 Words
Send out one Query Letter
Five Ad Calls
Take Clothes to Ragorama to Sell
Find and list old camera for sale
Clean the house

This is, of course, all before I go to work at 3. 

Extra Money Made Yesterday:

$0 Again. Hence the selling of clothes. 

I need to make at least $200 extra during June to pay bills so this is not looking good.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Way Too Hot

So yesterday we didn't get back to the house until about noon. We had stayed the night with a friend in Athens. When we got back, we realized that we had turned the air conditioning off, thinking we'd only be gone for a few hours. In the morning, the sun shines directly into our loft.... our loft with giant twenty foot windows. By the time we made it back and turned on the air conditioning, it was already over 90 degrees in the apartment. After running it constantly for about 21 hours now, it's a whopping 88 degrees in here. I honestly think I might be melting. I feel very very icky right now. 

Yesterday was a productive day. Today's to do list is as follows. 

Hang up the @#%$&^@ Clothes
Make 7 Playbill Ad Calls
Mail out Subscriptions
Mail out three Orders
Write 200 Words
Bake something for Preview Night of Much Ado About Nothing
Deliver Baby Bootees to Father of New Baby

Extra Money Made Yesterday:
$0 - Ouch

Do you think anyone would find it odd if I wandered around with an ice pack strapped to my neck?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Progress Here, Progress There

Yesterday I missed some things from my goal list. I didn't do Playbill calls and I didn't hang up clothes. 

Todays list looks like this:

Hang Up Clothes
Make Six Playbill Calls
Mail out at 10 orders
Mail The Shawl
Write 200 Words
Sew up last Baby Bootee

I am also going to start tracking extra money I manage to make to see how I really do on a day to day basis. 

Extra Money Made Yesterday: 
$8.50 - Etsy

It's interesting how hard it can be paying off bills. You get kind of caught up and obsessive. You stop seeing the big picture and sweating the small stuff. I don't know how to stop sweating the small stuff. It's hard. 

I had a fabulous lunch with one of the actors that I work with yesterday. People's minds stagger me sometimes. Definitely the most fascinating two hours I've spent over the last couple of months. I am glad I know now how brilliant his mind is. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Today's Goal

I'm going to set myself a goal for today and I am going to work very hard to meet it. 
Today I will :

Write 200 Words on outstanding articles. 
Revise the latest Ocean HF Article.
Call five people about advertising in the Tavern's Playbill. 
Hang up Clothes. 
Go in to work for at least six hours. 
Finish the other baby bootee for Samantha. 
Take pictures of The Shawl.

There. Thats completely doable in sixteen hours. Barely a blip. I can handle that with all of my usual procrastination. 

I should probably get started.