Sunday, December 31, 2017

How to Support a Reading Habit Without Going Broke

I have always loved to read.  I can remember being excited about starting first grade because FINALLY I'd learn to read for myself.  I was one of those kids who took to reading like a duck to water; once it "clicked" a few weeks into the school year I was off and running and way ahead of my classmates.  I was reading chapter books by Carolyn Haywood by the end of year and I never looked back.  We were in Turkey at that time and didn't have a TV so that meant if I wanted escapist entertainment, it was coming from print, not a screen.

Over the years I've found a variety of ways to keep myself in reading material without breaking the bank and today I'm going to share some with you:

The Public Library

Most towns have one, and if yours does not, a nearby town will probably let you use theirs even if there is a yearly fee.  While the number, quality and variety of books available depends on the system, generally you can find something to read at the library even if you are on the waiting list for the latest best-seller. 

One big recent change for public libraries is that many now provide e-books that can be downloaded and read on your tablet or Kindle.  My library uses Overdrive and many of the books are borrowed from Amazon.  

One thing many libraries (or their Friends of the Library club) do is sell discarded library books or donated books the library does not want to keep.  You get to provide money to update the library while obtaining books you can keep at a low cost.

Little Free Libraries

Little Free Libraries are boxes built by individuals or groups that provide shelter for books people want to swap or give away.  The operate on the idea of leaving a book when you take a book.  You can find one near you here.  

EBook Freebies

The major ebook sites like Amazon and Google Books offer free books constantly.  Some are permanently free--authors will offer the first book in a series at no cost to hook you into the series, hoping you will pay for successive books.  Others are backlist offerings from authors hoping to entice you to buy their current, often new, books.  The classics are also often free. 

Book Swapping Sites

Websites like Bookmooch allow you to swap unwanted books for books you want to have.  Instead of using money to purchase books, you use points.   When you join Bookmooch, you a point for entering your list of giveaway books. With that point, you can "mooch" a book from someone else's list.  Each book someone "mooches" earns you a point; each book you receive from someone costs you a point.  Users pay to mail books to the recipients, and since books can be send via media mail, the per item cost is about $2.50.

Become a Book Blogger

Book Bloggers are bloggers who write about books, and publishers make review copies available to many bloggers.  The best way to learn about book blogging is by reading book blogs, and you can find a lot of them by clicking through to the bloggers who link up on memes like Mailbox Monday or It's Monday, What Are You Reading.  Those meme posts will also give you an idea of where bloggers and getting their review books.

Some publishers have review programs and there are tour groups out there but today, most review books are distributed in ebook form via NetGalley and Edelweiss.  Bloggers register, and then request desired books.  Publishers decide whether or not to approve based on a number of factors including past history with the blogger.

To get started as a book blogger, write reviews of what you are reading, whether a purchased book or a library book.  After you have been writing for a couple of months, register with NetGalley and Edelweiss and then start requesting books.

What are your favorite free or inexpensive sources of reading material? 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Gifts Money Can't Buy

I wrote this last year and since it is all still true (and I have stuff to do to get ready for Christmas) I'm just re-posting.

If you read personal finance blogs, you've noticed a lot of posts lately about thrifty gift giving; and ideas range from homemade gifts, to IOUs for services, to garage sale finds.  My list is going to be gifts that money can't buy.


Money can't buy family or their love, and without them, life would be so empty.  Thank you God for the gift of my family.


St. Cecilia's Roman Catholic Church (Greenpoint, Brooklyn).jpg

Money can't buy faith; and without it there is no long-term hope.  Thank you God for the gift of faith in You.  




Money can't buy the beauty in nature.  Yes, it may cost money to go and see places far from home, but most of us live close to natural beauty, beauty we may not even notice because to us it is so normal.  Thank you Lord for the beauty of the earth You made.


"A PLEDGE AND A PRAYER - AND ON EARTH PEACE, GOOD WILL TOWARD MEN" - NARA - 535648

Money can't buy peace.  It can buy weapons, it can support armies, and the lack of it can make men easy pickings for terrorists, but money can't buy peace, either worldwide or within our homes and hearts.  Please God, grant us peace.  



May the Joy of Christmas be with you and you loved ones now and forever.  God Bless each of you--you are another thing money can't buy--readers for a blog!
*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich.*

Friday, December 22, 2017

End of the Year Financial Housekeeping




The new year often bring with it resolutions to improve your life in one way or another.  As we reach the end of 2017, it is time for some financial housekeeping.  Time to open the drawers and cabinets, pull things out, take a look at them, decide if they are worth keeping and buff them up and put them away again if they are worth keeping.  On the financial side of life, here are some of those drawers and cabinets and cleaning chores:

Create a Financial Folder or Binder

One day you won't be here anymore, and until it happens (or it is close) you won't know whether you are one of those who gets at least a few weeks warning, or whether you will pass suddenly, or at least be incapacitated suddenly.  

If you died tomorrow, would those who need you financial data be able to access it quickly and easily?  A financial folder on your computer or a binder in your desk can make locating those items easier for your loved ones when that time comes.  Information needed includes:
  • Account numbers, websites and passwords
  • Insurance polices, along with the name of the agent (if you have one) to contact
  • Car title
  • Title to your home (if you have it) 
  • List of autopay bills and the accounts from which they are drawn
  • List of monthly bills that can be expected, along with a list of expected irregular bills like homeowner's insurance or taxes
  • List of credit cards, along with a notation if a substantial balance is being carried
  • List of outstanding loans such as mortgages, car loans, business loans, medical bills or credit card balances (if card isn't paid off regularly)
  • Your will
  • List of any major assets not listed above (if there is gold buried in your backyard you want the kids to know now), including real estate, collectibles (particularly if you know they are really worth something)
  • List of professionals with whom you deal, particularly if your children/heirs are out-of-town.  Include accountant, attorney, plumber, exterminator, HVAC repair or anyone else they may need to contact before the estate is closed.  
  • Your most recent tax return.  Your executor will need to prepare your final tax return, or have it prepared, and having last year's return as a starting place is a big help.

Beneficiary Selections

Your IRAs, 401(k)s and life insurance policies are not passed to heirs via your will but via a beneficiary selection form completed when the account was opened or the policy purchased.  If you haven't looked at your forms lately, now is a good time to make sure you haven't disinherited your youngest, and that you aren't leaving a windfall to your ex.  Putting copies of these forms in your binder will help your executor when the time comes, and then next year you can quickly review the binder and make sure the forms still reflect your wishes.

Insurance

Many people believe that the "insurance check-up" offered by our friendly agent is little more than a push for us to buy more insurance, and indeed that may be exactly what it is.  However, as we go through life, our insurance needs do change and sitting down once a year to review your coverages is a good idea.

Life Insurance: Has anything changed in your life to make more or less life insurance a good idea? If your youngest just graduated from college, do you still need that big policy? If you just bought a big house and a baby is on the way, it is time for more life insurance. If you are making substantially more than you were when you bought your policy, you may need more insurance to protect your family's increased standard of living.

Health Insurance: Open enrollment for health insurance is generally around this time of year. If your employer doesn't offer a choice of plans, the choice may be simple but if you are offered various networks and deductibles now is the time to run the numbers and see what will likely work best for you. At some point most people acquire some sort of ill that requires periodic doctor visits and once that happens the high-deductible plan that has served you well for years may not be the best plan for you anymore--or it may be. Run the numbers.

Auto Insurance: If your car is financed your lender will require comprehensive and collision insurance. However, once it is paid for, you get to decide whether those coverages are worth it. Basically the lower the book value of the car, the less you have to gain by carrying comprehensive and collision insurance. If it would not be a financial hardship for you to go out right now and buy another of whatever you are driving, it is time to seriously consider dropping the comprehensive and collision. Paying $300 per year to avoid having to pay $2,000 just doesn't make economic sense.

Also, look at your liability limits. As your income and assets rise, so should your liability limits. Most middle income families with assets and an income that allows for extras like vacations, boats, or private schools should have at least $100,000 in liability coverage. On the other hand, people with a low income and few assets can get by the the state minimum.

Homeowners/Renters:  Homeowners insurance pays to repair or rebuild your home if it is damaged in a covered peril.  It also replaces contents damaged in a covered peril (usually fire, theft, wind, or hail).  Flood insurance is separate.

Take a yearly look at your limits and decide whether it is time to raise them.  In some places the average cost of homes has skyrocketed not because it costs that much more to build but because the land has become very desirable.  If you have a fire, you don't have to replace the land, only the house so find out if you have enough insurance to rebuild.

One way to control the cost of homeowners insurance is to raise your deductible.  If you can afford the out-of-pocket expense in the case of an incident, then you may want to consider this.

Your Investment Portfolio

If you are like me, you have a 401(k), an IRA, a Roth IRA, and your spouse has the same, and then there may be a taxable account or two lying around too, plus the money in the bank, and that credit union account that your dad told you to keep open because it is such a great place to borrow money.  How often do you sit down and look at all those accounts as a whole?  

Personal Capital is an online robo-advisor that allows anyone to set up an account and link all their bank accounts and investment accounts, without cost.  Personal Capital will then analyze all your investments and see if your overall asset allocation is in line with your goals, as expressed in a survey they administer.  Once everything is in there, a quick check will tell you what your allocation should be, and what it is, so you can make needed changes.

If you have only a few accounts you can check them manually, and you should do so at least yearly, to re-balance.  For example, the general rule for people my age is to have about 65% of your assets in stocks, about 35% in bonds.  If I had started the year with that allocation and all my deposits this year had been made according to that ratio, I'd be overweight on stocks right (unless I had made some awful choices in picking stocks/funds) because the market has gone up so much.  Most retirement plans let you move money between funds online, and some let you do it via phone.

The other thing you need to do periodically is to determine if your current asset allocation is still appropriate.  In general, as you get older, more of  your money should be invested in bonds rather than stocks.  Most mutual fund companies and robo-advisors have online quizzes you can take to help you determine what your asset allocation should be.  

Your Will or Other Estate Planning Document

Once a year, take it out and read it.  Is it still appropriate?  Do you have a living will or advance directive?  Do you want one?  If the document you have still expresses your wishes you can put it away for another year, but if your family has changed, or your wishes have changed, call an attorney and get the will re-done.

Your Budget

Many companies give raises or bonuses in January so the beginning of the year is a good time to consider your budget and  your goals.  Sit down with your spouse or significant other if you have one and consider where you need to spend more or less in the coming year, and what you want long-term.  

Keeping up with your finances is a lot like housekeeping; if you keep the clutter picked up on a regular basis and tackle the bigger chores a few at a time, it is easier than cleaning a pigsty from top to bottom.  A yearly "deep cleaning" makes sure nothing is missed but regular light maintenance makes that deep cleaning easy.  
*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich.*

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Why I Am Not Investing in Bitcoin

There is no question about it; Bitcoin is hot.  There are those who are predicting it will go through the roof and make those who have invested in it rich, but I'm not buying any. Why?

What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a currency not backed by any government that some people or companies accept as a medium of exchange.  Unlike currencies backed by governments, Bitcoin does not have a physical form, it exists only in "bits" in pieces of information on computers. The Bitcoin network is decentralized and interconnected--there are lots of computers with the same information on them. That's the fifty cent summary of a New York Times article, but the bottom line is, I really don't understand it.  

How Do You Get Bitcoins?

Like anything else, you buy them.  You can buy them through companies that require indentification and in ways that do not.  For some reason, drug dealers like the ways that do not.  I have no idea how much of the money you give these companies goes into currency vs how much is fee or profit for the company.

How Do You Make Money with Bitcoins?

You make money with Bitcoins by selling them for more than you paid for them.  In some ways, all currencies are subject to the law of supply and demand, though usually we see it on the side of a good or service that is purchased as opposed to the currency side.  Last year $10 purchased a widget; this year $10 only purchases 90% of a widget.  We say the price of the widget has increased--and if doohickeys and thing-a-ma-jigs are the same price they were last year, then yes, widgets cost more, but if "everything" has gone up 10% then in reality the currency is worth less.

If you want to buy Bitcoins you have to pay what those possessing them are charging.  If you want to sell them, you only get what people are willing to pay.  How that is determined is something I do not know.

So, Why Am I Not Investing in Bitcoin?

If you read each of the paragraphs above,  you'll see why I am not investing in Bitcoin--"I do not know" "I have no idea" "I really don't understand it".  I'm not saying I'll never invest in Bitcoin--maybe one day I'll do the research and understand those things and feel comfortable investing.  However, someone once told me that if I wanted to invest in something, I should be able to tell you what it is I am buying, how I expect to make money from it, how I could lose money from it, and why, and who is making money because I'm buying it (and how they are paid).  If I don't know those things, then my "investing" is really gambling--it might work, it might not but I'll have no way of duplicating the success or avoiding the problems in the future.  In other words, I am counting on getting lucky, nothing more, nothing less.

Bottom line--if you don't understand it, you shouldn't invest in it.  

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich.*

Friday, December 8, 2017

A Stich Fix Alternative

It doesn't take much web surfing or blog reading to learn that Stich Fix is a hot property. They recently went public and though they did not raise as much money as hoped, their stock price is up.

What is Stitch Fix?


For the uninformed, Stich Fix is a clothing subscription service.  Customers fill out an online survey and then, periodically (frequency depends on the plan chosen) they are sent a box of five clothing items and/or accessories which they try on in the privacy of their own home where they can see if the pieces go with other things in their wardrobe and where they are not being pressured by sales people.  The box includes a mailer for returning unwanted items and a $20 "styling fee" is applied to any purchase made.  

Stitch Fix has combined data analysis and a flair for fashion to make it easy for people who hate to shop to update their wardrobes and to give even those who do love to shop a chance to try something they might not have picked.  

I've never tried Stich Fix though I've read reviews online.  I have tried a competitor, Dia & Co., which does pretty much the same thing, except that Dia &Co is for plus-sized women, a market Stich Fix has just begun to serve.  I wrote about one box on my book blog, and another box here.

What Are the Plusses and Minuses?


I recently ran across yet another blog post about Stich Fix and reflected on my experience with Dia & Co. and came to a few conclusions:

  • It is fun to get stuff in the mail.  Even in this day of one-click ordering from Amazon, there is still something fun about coming home to a package with your name on it, especially if you aren't quite sure what is in it.

  • Trying things on at home, with your other clothes is more helpful than trying them on in a dressing room, in isolation from the rest of your wardrobe.  If it looks awful on you, you aren't going to want it in any case, but if it looks good, it would be helpful to know if it matches your gray pants or the blue sweater.  Yes, you can always return things, but will you?

  • The box can encourage you to try things you might not otherwise have given a second look.  One of my favorite Dia &Co. purchases is a dress I would never have tried on because it was too expensive and that style doesn't look good on me. 

  • Those boxes are expensive.  If you regularly walk into mid-priced department stores (Dillards, Macys) and buy non-sales price merchandise, then these boxes will be in your spending niche.  For those of us who shop the sale racks or lower priced stores, the prices of $50 or more per item seem high. 

Is There a Lower-Priced Alternative to Stitch Fix or Dia & Co.?

If you are looking for a subscripton box that costs substantially less than those two, well, I haven't found it.  While I'm sure computers do most of the work, reality is that someone is picking the clothes, putting them in a box and sending them to you, along with a cute little note.  While I doubt stylists spend a tremendous amount of time on any one box, the cost for them, plus packaging and two way mailing means, I suspect, that this business model wouldn't work with lower-priced clothing. 

However, I do have a couple of almost alternatives, for those of us who don't have quite as much money to spend:

  • Decide ahead of time on an amount of money or number of items and then go to your favorite store's website and order them.  Hopefully your favorite store has a website and accepts returns either in the mail or in-store.  Dress Barn is my favorite store and my last Dia Box came in at $300, so I went to Dress Barn's site and picked out $300 worth of clothes in my sizes--and was able to get closer to ten items than the five Dia &Co. sent me.  They showed up a few days later and I tried them on.  I kept two and stopped by my favorite store a couple of days later and returned the rejects (and picked up something else while I was there).

    The main advantage to this method is that you don't get things you absolutely wouldn't wear--no tulle skirts or distressed jeans for me, I'm in my 50s, I'm not 5 or 15.  The disadvantage is that there is no one pushing you to trying something you wouldn't ordinary try.  You could remedy that by some version of digitally throwing darts and ordering what you land on, even if it is a tulle skirt (shudder). 

  • Give someone you know your account information for the store website.  Unless it is somone you really trust with your money, don't give them the credit card information but let them log onto the site as you, and fill your cart with a specified number of items or amount of money.  Give that person your sizes too.  Once the cart is full, you log on and pay (and decide whether or not to peek).  A friend who really "gets" you and has great sense of fashion could both avoid the tulle skirt and find the vest you'd never look at twice--but which looks great on you and goes with half your wardrobe. 
Clothing subscription boxes can be fun, but they are an expensive way to build a wardrobe. Consider alternatives for at least part of the fun for a lot less money.  However, if you want to give Dia &Co. a try, use this link and I get a referral fee.  
Disease Called Debt

Sunday, December 3, 2017

5 Ways to Make Money Blogging



Blogging is one of those things  you can do as a hobby or as a job.  Those for whom it is a hobby blog to connect with those of similar interests or as an outlet for creative expression.  Those who do it as a job want to make money.  There are even some of us who blog mostly as a hobby but who wouldn't mind making money.  That leads to the question:  How can bloggers make money?

Advertising 

Like the owners of any other medium, bloggers can make money by selling advertising on their site.  Some are able to cut deals directly with advertisers for space; others belong to networks like Adsense which place the ads and pay the blog owners.

 Sponsored Posts

Sponsored posts are posts an advertiser pays you to write, like this one was intended to be. (I sent a copy of the article to the client for review and payment prior to publishing and never heard back from them) Usually bloggers are asked to write a post that fits with the theme of the blog, and to mention the client a certain number of times, and to use the provided links.  Mel wrote a great post that mentioned programs that match bloggers with companies that want sponsored posts. 

Affiliate Marketing

A lot of businesses will pay a sales commission or provide things of value to bloggers who refer new business to them.  One such business is Amazon.   Associates are given codes which are integrated into the URLs of products on Amazon's website.  Bloggers write posts that suggest the purchase of the products or advertise the products on their sidebars.  If a reader clicks the link and buys from Amazon, the blogger gets a commission.  As with many other commission-based sales programs, the more you sell, the higher the commission rate.  

At one time becoming an Amazon Affiliate was as easy as filling out an application.  Recently Amazon has cracked down on what they consider to be spammy websites.  Also, they require that affiliates sell something within the first six months.  If you are approved, Amazon offers a variety of products and its links are easy to include in posts.

I had been an Amazon Affiliate until my state's tax laws disagreed with Amazon and Amazon dropped all residents of my state.  Amazon has since agreed to collect sales taxes and while Louisiana residents can now become Amazon Affiliates, my most recent application was turned down.

A lot of companies have affiliate programs of one sort or another.  Here are some that will pay me if you click the link and do as noted:

Motif:  This stockbroker sell baskets of stocks, which it calls "Motifs" for $9.95 per basket.  Use this link   to get a free 3-month trial of Motif, a smart way to invest for people who care. Motif makes it easy to build an investment portfolio that aligns your financial goals with your personal values. With this free trial, you will get access to their Impact accounts as well as their powerful trading tools.

Stockpile:  Stockpile is an online stockbroker which charges a flat $0.99 fee per trade, and which sells fractional shares of stock.  If you are looking for a different type of Christmas present this year, Stockpile offers accounts for minors which allow them to buy and sell stock, subject to your approval.  If you use this link, you get $5.00 worth of stock to begin your account with them, and I get $5.00 too.  I wrote a full review of Stockpile a few months ago.

Robinhood:  Robinhood is a commission-free stockbroker which, at this time, can only be used via smartphone (they are in to process of developing a website).  If you use this link to open an account with them, you and I will both receive a free share of stock.  Here is a link to my review of Robinhood.

Ibotta:  Ibotta is a smartphone app that offers you coupons and tracks your purchases.  I just downloaded it so I can't tell you a lot about it except that if you use my link, you get $10 and I get a reward as well.

Personal Capital: Personal Capital is a robo-advisor that offers free financial tracking through its website.  You can read my full review here.   If you use my link to sign up--no purchase necessary, just link your accounts so you can use (or not) the tracking features--we both get $20.00

Selling Your Own Products

Some bloggers make money by developing and selling a product such as an e-book, or in the case of some really big names (think Pioneer Woman) actual physical products.  Other bloggers use their blogs as a way to publicize an ongoing business.  From what I can see, most of the bloggers who are making big money from their blog are doing it by selling products. 

Review Products

Some companies will offer complimentary products to bloggers who agree to review them.  This is especially prevalent in the worlds of book blogging and mommy blogging. While some products are given with the understanding that they will not be sold (like review copies of books), and some will be consumed in order to review them, still others can be sold by bloggers or given as gifts.

Blogs with large readerships generally qualify for more and better review products.  Some can be obtained through tour groups and sometimes company publicists will respond favorably to a request for a review product or even a giveaway product --and giveaways can be a great way to increase readership if you are willing to promote them. 


Have you found any ways to make money blogging that I have failed to mention?  
Disease Called Debt