June 30

Lose Weight for Free: Go Play With Your Kids!

Okay, stop groaning. I know, depending on where you live, that it’s a million degrees outside and after working all day, or night, that you don’t have the energy or inclination to work out, let alone go chase your offspring around the yard in unstructured parental torture also known as ‘playing with your kids’.

BUT…think about this…do you know how many calories a game of freeze tag burns? It depends on your size, but you could burn enough calories in a twenty minute game of tag to totally negate the calories on that donut you ate at lunch. Plus, you will earn major brownie points with your kids!

Okay, you say, but it’s HOT outside…so I’ll just watch Netflix instead….
Um, no! Bad example being set for impressionable kiddos! How about an indoor game like one of the Kinect games for the Xbox 360 or Wii? There are dozens of games available for each console that are great for getting a workout. Think bowling, tennis, rafting and you’ll have an idea of what I’m talking about.

Games like the Dance Central series are super fun and even your teens will be happy to get involved. Kinect Adventures and Kinect Party are great for younger kids, but really the whole family can enjoy them. As for the Wii, games like Wii Fitness and the Just Dance series are definite winners with kids and adults, too.

Not a gamer? Not a problem. Walking is free, easy and burns a lot of calories. All you need is a comfy pair of walking shoes and a place to walk. Go very early or late in the evening to avoid the heat of the day, and take advantage of your local parks or neighborhood walking trails. Check to see if any local schools allow the public to use their tracks when school is not in session.

Want a more traditional workout but don’t want to pay for exercise classes? Check your local library. They’ve got more than just books; you can also find a selection of workout DVDs that you can borrow for free. It’s a great way to try out a new workout before committing to purchasing the DVD for yourself. As an added bonus you can grab a few books to keep your kids busy while you break a sweat.

With all these options, you really don’t have an excuse not to grab some exercise at least a couple of times every week. You don’t need expensive exercise equipment or a gym membership to get fit and lose a little weight. Grab your kids and get moving!

Do you have any helpful tips for losing weight without spending a fortune? Share them here!

June 23

Don’t Fall For the Poor Man’s Trap

file0001730089237When I was growing up, my grandmother used to buy items from a particular catalog. I won’t name the company, but it’s one of many that operate in a similarly sly fashion. It offers popular items for only a few dollars each month, making it ‘affordable’ for everyone to have the latest in technology or fashions.

You can conveniently finance with them at ‘competitive’ interest rates somewhere in the 30% APR area over several years, making payments of twenty or thirty dollars a month on some high-end items. For example, if you want to buy your kid that $400 Apple iPad 2 (16gb) but can’t afford to shell out that much cash at once, you can just make payments of $47 each month. Sounds great, right?

Look at the small print. You are not paying $400 for an iPad 2; you are actually paying $570 for it. By the time you’ve paid it off, there will have been several newer, better, and probably cheaper versions available to you. Some of you will be shocked…but a lot of you won’t be. You’ll say to me, ‘Well, Jessica, how do you propose I afford to pay $400 all at once on something my kid needs for school/work/to watch YouTube videos? Some people just don’t have that kind of money lying around’.

I get that. I don’t always have that kind of money lying around. So, I don’t always get the latest and greatest technology. I have been known to finance things that I need, and while it’s never the best way to pay for something, it has helped in a pinch. I get that, I really do. But, what I don’t get is how people are willing to let themselves be ripped off because they feel like they can’t do any better.

It’s not just the catalogs, either. There are rent-to-own shops on every corner in my hometown, and across the street from those are the payday lenders. You know the ones; they all have big neon signs that say ‘No Credit, No Problem!’ They are more than happy to sell to you or lend to you even if your credit score is low because they are making a HUGE profit from your inability to wait patiently and save up to buy the things you want. They are the Poor Man’s trap—the financial and psychological trap we fall into when we aren’t willing or able to save and pay cash for these items.

Low credit scores prevent you from getting access to credit with low interest rates. This means you pay more for money you borrow, including when you apply for credit cards. But, here’s the thing: credit scores and interest rates are just numbers, and if you don’t have that mountain of debt sitting on your chest, those numbers won’t look so important to you.

If you are debt free, you won’t have to use all your hard earned money to pay your bills. You’ll have plenty left over to ‘play’ with, and you’ll be able to buy the things you want as well as the things you need. Every time you force yourself to save up for something expensive and avoid using these rip-off merchants you are strengthening more than your resolve to become debt free. You are telling yourself that you deserve to be happy and financially in control, and that is a powerful thing.

June 15

5 Ways to Earn More Money as a Writer

stack of money

Although this blog is about personal finance, I want to share tips on earning money because you can’t manage money if you don’t have any. This post is about writing because, well, it’s what I do.

Every writer who has dreams of making it big with their writing career has to start out somewhere, and it’s usually writing for very little money. The key to earning more money as a writer is to develop the skills needed to become a great writer, not just a good one. There is a lot of money to be made writing for others and even for yourself, if you know where to look and how to go about it. Here are five tips to help you earn more money writing online and elsewhere.

Improve your skills

Good writers get paid well, but great writers can get paid really well, so it’s important to continue developing your skills in order to improve your earning potential. The best thing about being a bad writer is, as long as you are willing to work at it, you can only get better. I have seen some pretty dismal writing out there in cyberspace and beyond, and I’m pretty sure the writer still earned some money from it. In fact, I’ve edited some things that were very much less than perfect, and the writer still earned something.

The bottom line is this: if you are an okay writer, improving your skills will help you become a better writer who can earn more money. If you are an amazing writer, continuing to hone your skills will keep you earning the big bucks and put you in line to earn even more as your skills get recognized.

Read other writers’ work

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” –Stephen King

How can you expect to write well if you never see how it’s supposed to be done? Read as much as you can, especially the types of things you want to write. It’s important to see how good writing looks, and also see how bad writing looks. Reading helps you learn to distinguish between the two, and hopefully avoid doing the latter.

Market yourself well

Many writers sell themselves short when it comes to their abilities. Or, they may know that they can write, but don’t know how to tell others. Learning to promote your skills is crucial to making better money as a writer. Even if you start out earning less than a penny per word, as your writing improves you should aim for jobs that pay more. Don’t worry if you don’t think you’re good enough, because chances are you will do just fine. If you get rejected, try again.

Consider building your own website or page where you can feature your skills as a writer and list your rates to write for others. Use social media, interaction on other people’s sites and even the classifieds to advertise your services. Don’t be afraid to let people know you are a writer for hire who is looking for work!

Be prepared to learn something new

Not all writers are complete experts at their topics. In fact, most of us simply have the ability to learn enough about a subject to complete a thorough, engaging article or story about it. Most writers have a love of learning that helps them do this, but if you don’t you can still write great content for others. You just need to have the dedication and determination to learn how to do proper research and produce solid work. When you can write about anything, you can earn much more money!

Consider all your options

While many of the writers I know (myself included) write online for money, don’t forget that there are still print newspapers and magazines that require content every single day. Why not contact your local newspaper and see if you can write a guest post for them? Even if it is done for free, you can still get a byline and a piece to add to your portfolio. This means you can prove to potential clients that you have what it takes to get the job done, and you’ll be more likely to snag more work in the future.

Above all else, the way to earn more money writing is to simply write more, even if it doesn’t earn you much to start with. When you do what you love, the money almost always follows.

Do you earn money writing for fun or for a living? Want to share your own tips and suggestions? Please share them in the comments section below!

June 12

5 Ways to Get Out of Debt Faster

google erase debt

Debt can be crippling. The worries and strain that accompany being in debt are bad for your health, bad for your mental state and bad for your relationships. Don’t let debt make you sick; use these tips to get out of debt quicker and get back on the road to personal financial independence.

Budget

If you don’t have a plan for your money, you may as well plan on kissing your money goodbye. You cannot hope to get out of debt if you are always struggling to pay bills, feed the family and run a household. Even a simple budget that details your income and your bills is a start, but you really need to work up to a detailed plan so you know where every single dollar is going. Then, you can squeeze out the extra dollars that are sneaking away on unnecessary expenses and put them into paying down debt faster.

Make a plan

Paying an extra five dollars on every single credit card payment sounds like a great idea, but in reality it doesn’t get you anywhere. If you pay an extra $5 on each of six credit cards, you are barely reducing the amount of interest that you are paying on each one, literally just by pennies. Instead, take all thirty dollars and pay it on one credit card, in addition to the minimum payment, and the results will be much more impressive. Pick the debt with the lowest balance so you can pay it off quicker and build up some momentum, and some pride in yourself for paying off a bill!

Stop spending

This sounds like a no brainer, but surprisingly people just don’t get that it’s not going to help you get out of debt if you continue to spend money, especially if you are spending money on credit cards. Don’t be tempted to pay one bill with a credit card in order to use the money to pay off another debt. This almost never benefits you because a zero balance will eventually become too tempting and you’ll re-spend on that card that you just paid off. Stick to your guns and stop the spending to get debt free faster.

Automate your bills

This can help you if you have a problem paying bills on time and are incurring massive late fees, especially with credit cards. Having the payment drafted from your bank account automatically means no more forgotten payments or late fees, but you need to make sure the money is going to be in the bank when the payment is due, or you could face overdraft fees from your bank.

Consider consolidation

I hesitate to recommend this, but for some people it can be a good way to get out of debt faster. The only caveat is that you need to be super full of self-control so that you don’t borrow the money to clear all your credit card or loan debt and have one monthly payment, only to turn around in six months’ time and run up debt on those same cards again by using the same bad money management skills and making the same poor choices with your finances.

Remember, there are no ‘quick fixes’ when it comes to getting out of debt. It probably took you years to get into debt, and it will take a while to get out, but it can be done if you are patient and learn to make good financial decisions.

June 11

Working From Home as a Writer

workinglaptop

(Image from Dreamstime.com)

When I left my job at the bank to stay home with the baby, I was going through several feelings at once. First, I hated not being able to contribute financially to the household, especially since I had just added a new mouth to the bunch.

Second, I was BORED! I need daily stimulation or I become cranky, ugly and downright mean. I discovered early on that staying at home was no fun for me unless I could find something to DO that added to my family’s bank account. Earning money is just a part of me, I guess.

I have always loved to write, so I started looking into that. I Googled ‘get paid to write’ and found tons of websites that absolutely intimidated me to no end…they all wanted writing samples and asked me to take tests…I was a nervous wreck the first few times I applied for any of these! But, I felt afraid and did it anyway, using my iPad because our computer had died and it was all I had.

I wrote several dozen articles for several ‘content mills’. These are sites that people who own websites go to in order to purchase articles to be written for their sites. You see, many people have several different websites at a time that they can’t always write all the content for themselves. These ‘content mills’ are a way for them to get good content for their sites and blogs for a fee.

The content mills I started working for don’t pay the best money, but it was (and still is sometimes) better than a slap in the face with wet lettuce. (That’s a pet saying of my hubby’s…not sure what it means but he’s from London, so it must be cool).

If you want to learn to write from home and get paid for it, there are a lot of genuine opportunities out there, even for beginners. I started at iWriter.com because, well, it was the first place I found. I won’t lie…I don’t still write there because I believe that their system is unfair to writers who are trying to earn a living. The system requires you to have so many five star ratings in order to progress to the higher earning levels, which I don’t mind. What I do mind are the clients who have extremely high demands and who can give you very low stars, which bumps you back down to earning less than a penny per word.

If you are just starting out, and YOU HAVE A THICK, RESILIENT SKIN, then give iWriter a try. It may be a better fit for you than it was for me.

I will continue to post stuff about earning money online because I think it’s important for you to understand what I do for a living and see if there are opportunities that you can use for yourself. Hopefully something you see in one of my posts will help you earn more money or learn to manage your money a little better.

Have you ever wanted to work from home? What is your dream work from home job?

Don’t forget to subscribe to the blog so you can keep up with all the information from my posts!

June 9

Should I Save or Should I Go?

saveOkay, perhaps that’s not the best title for this post, but it sounded so much like the song title that I couldn’t resist. Seriously, though, this is a good time to talk about saving money. You remember that savings account you opened all those years ago, the one with 73 cents sitting in it, staring you in the face every time you open your bank statement? Yep, that poor, neglected little thing needs some attention, pronto.

When you are broke or struggling you really want to have money in a savings account as a backup in case of emergencies. This is non-negotiable, because, as Dave Ramsey says, Murphy loves broke people. Murphy’s Law states that if something can go wrong, it will, and it will always happen when you have no money to pay for it. Most people resort to paying for emergencies on their credit cards or borrowing from a relative of rip-off payday lender, perpetuating a cycle of debt that can be crippling.

A good rule of thumb is to always have 3-6 months of living expenses saved up ‘just in case’. But, before you do that, you need to look at the big picture. If you have a mountain of debt, you need to clear that up before you can even afford to start saving realistically. So how do you keep Murphy off your back until you can start putting that money into a savings account?

Put a small safety net in place to cover unexpected emergencies until you can focus on your longer-term savings. Ramsey recommends $1000 in his ‘Financial Peace’ plan, but if you are a small family or individual $500 will do. If you can’t even come up with this, don’t panic. But, do focus on trying to get as much into your savings account as you can to cover those emergencies. Even a couple of hundred dollars is better than 73 cents, right?

Here’s what you need to do to make this a reality.

  • Work extra shifts, or take on part-time work to make up the money.
  • Set up an automatic draft into your savings account from each paycheck. Even if you start with $5 each week you will be actively participating in the management of your personal finances. Go you!
  • Give up a few ‘extras’ for a few weeks so that you can get the money in your bank ASAP. This is not something that you want to dawdle over; Murphy loves dawdlers!

 

And, here’s what you do NOT do.

  • Don’t use the money to pay bills. That is why you are budgeting, silly. Use your budget to make sure that you are using your income to cover your bills, and make cutbacks on other outgoings as needed to make sure that this happens.
  • Don’t make up emergencies. A flat tire is an emergency. A trip to Vegas is not. Nor is a sale at Macy’s, a bargain in the clearance section of Wal-Mart, or a breakup with your significant other that makes you want to engage in retail therapy.
  • Don’t get discouraged. Not everyone will get $500 in their savings account in a few weeks, or even a few months. And sometimes you’ll have to spend it on a real emergency, but when you do make sure you PUT IT BACK as soon as possible.

Managing your money is just like any other skill. You learn to do it in baby steps and by practicing good habits. It won’t happen overnight, but with time and patience you’ll find it a snap to save money for more than just emergencies. Until then, be a little mean to yourself about not spending money. Or, call me and I’ll be mean to you…whatever works, right?

How do you save for your emergencies? Share your tips and ideas below!

June 7

Motivation…Where are You?

Today has been a busy day for me personally, and it should be professionally, too. I have some ghostwriting I need to be doing, another mini project for myself and I still haven’t found time to create a professional Facebook page for myself (you can still find me on Twitter @Jesswoodsusa), but I just can’t seem to get it together to get busy on it. It’s been one of those days, you know, where I started out with the best of intentions, but could feel my energy just disappearing as the day wore on.

You’re probably thinking, ‘What the heck has your personal life got to do with my personal finances?’ Well, I just thought I’d make a little point about how getting lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life can really put you off your stride when it comes to managing your finances. For me, a trip to the doctor with some not so great news made me blow a few dollars that I hadn’t planned on spending. ‘Retail therapy’ is such a devious treatment for any ailment, LOL!

When I feel down or stressed I have a really hard time making myself look for work, so unless I am working on something for a client at the time, I usually end up missing out on a lot of income. I just spin my wheels, not really motivated enough to start something new, and then stress about having a week where the money isn’t quite enough to get everything done.

I know we’ve all been there…heck, some weeks it feels like I can’t even move I’m so unmotivated. Maybe not even unmotivated, but just un-focused. A lack of focus can put you off your game pretty fast, but how on Earth do you fight it?

Before you drift into overspending due to lack of planning, or blow the budget on a week of fast food suppers because you just can’t be bothered to cook, remind yourself why you wanted to get your finances on track in the first place. Are you sick and tired of feeling like there’s nothing to show for all your hard work at the end of the week when the money’s all gone? Maybe you are tired of struggling to remember which of the dozen credit card bills need to be paid every week? Or, maybe you are like me and just want to feel debt free for the first time in, well, ever?

Find something to focus on when the motivation monster sucks it out of you, and you just feel like forgetting about your budget or not doing the overtime that’s available. Sometimes you even have to let yourself be unmotivated for a day, but no more than that. Then hop back on the wagon and point your horses towards your goals again. Once you find your focus again, plan out what you need to do in order to be successful that week, and prepare for those days where your lack of focus could be a liability.

If your downfall is overspending, just don’t go to the store! Not even for food, unless you have NOTHING in your house to eat. Even then, make a list and stick to it!

If you spend too much on fast food because you are dog-tired every day after work, pre-cook meals on your day off; even if you just cook one or two additional meals you will come out ahead of the game. Or buy freezer dinners for a few nights a week. It’s not against the law to not cook, but nobody said it has to be fast food, either!

Motivation_by_P_RexNS

I don’t know how to avoid losing motivation or focus, but I know coping skills, and the bottom line is YOU DO WHAT IT TAKES. If that means planning out every minute of the upcoming week, then by golly you just might have to do that once or twice until it stops becoming such an issue.

How do you fight the motivation monster? Please share so we can all win our battles!

June 4

Read, Kiddo, Read!

FIRST BOOK KIDS WHO READ BEAT SUMMER SLIDEEvery summer vacation I look forward to the Summer Reading program at our local library. I am a major bookworm and so is my oldest daughter, so it’s perfect for us. My favorite part? It’s free…duh. I love free almost as much as I love to read, and the library is one of our best resources for free books, movies, CD’s and magazines. Plus it has awesome air-conditioning and the Bubble Lady does her show there every summer…what more can a girl ask for?

This summer, give your kids the best vacation ever…sign them up for a library card. Get one yourself, because it is truly your ticket to anywhere you want to go. Okay, I hear some of you clicking away from this post already. You say you don’t read? Your kids don’t read? You don’t even remember what a book looks like? I’m not gonna judge. But I will try and educate you just a wee little bit….

Kids can lose a huge amount of knowledge over the summer if they don’t keep up with their reading. It’s called the ‘summer slide’ and it’s real folks. Remember how hard it was to go back to school in the fall and start all over in class? If you didn’t read all summer long, it was definitely hard to readjust to all that in-class reading. This infographic and article sums it up pretty well. But wait, there’s more!

Not only do kids who read during the summer avoid the slide, but they actually perform better on standardized tests, too. It’s a fact…reading is important!

What if you or your children don’t like to read? Well, there’s hope for you, yet. Graphic novels, comic books and audiobooks all stimulate your brain on slightly different levels. It’s not exactly the same as reading, but it’s a good second choice.

Don’t get sucked in by the Summer Slide…get your kids to the library, pronto! They can escape into a book, you can get some peace and quiet, and you’ll all enjoy the Bubble Lady’s show if she visits your local library branch. J

For some great Summer Reading suggestions for all ages, check out Read, Kiddo, Read!

Go on, get reading!