I Don’t Have Much Money – Can I Still Invest?

What often causes people to not invest money is the perception that you need a lot of money just to get started. That’s actually not true. Even if you don’t have much money, there are still places that you can invest with very little.

This is important because the first obstacle to investing at all is just getting started. If you go through your entire life thinking that you can’t invest because you don’t have a lot of money, then you will never start.

Here are ways that you can begin investing, even with very little money.

An Employer Sponsored Retirement Plan

If you are covered by an employer-sponsored retirement plan, this is the first place you should begin investing. One of the advantages to these plans is that they don’t require any minimum upfront investment. You can simply start by making payroll deductions, having the money transferred over to the retirement plan.

And since the money is taken directly out of your pay, you’ll never see the transfer occur, and you can set it up so that you barely notice the missing money from your pay. For example, you can begin funding an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan with a contribution of just 1% of your pay. You probably won’t even notice that!

In subsequent years, you can begin increasing the contribution each year. For example, at the beginning of your second year of participation, you can increase your contribution to 2% of your pay. At the beginning of the third year, you can increase it to 3%. If you time increases in your contributions with annual pay raises, you won’t even feel the effects of higher contributions. This is also made easier by the fact that the contributions themselves are tax-deductible so in effect the federal and state governments will be subsidizing your contributions.

If your employer offers a company match on your contributions, you should make it a goal to get your contributions to the point where that match is maximized. For example, if your company does a 50% match up to 6% of your pay (meaning they add 3% to your account), you should get to a 6% contribution rate as soon as you are able.

Under this scenario, even if you don’t invest any of the money, you would still be getting a 50% return on your contributions. That’s just too much money to pass up!

Traditional or Roth IRA

If your employer does not provide a retirement plan for you to participate in, you can start your own using either a traditional or Roth IRA. TD Ameritrade will allow you to open an IRA, and they have no up front account minimums. You can simply fund the account at whatever level you feel comfortable.

You can set up a payroll contribution through your employer as well. Most employers will allow you to allocate direct deposits into three or more accounts. You can simply start moving a small percentage of your pay to the IRA account, and that way you will gradually and automatically build up your account over time.

Once again, these contributions are tax-deductible (for a traditional IRA, not the Roth), so you won’t feel the full effect of your contribution. And you can contribute up to $5,500 per year ($6,500 if you’re 50 or older) to either a traditional or Roth IRA.

TD Ameritrade Brokerage Account

TD Ameritrade will also allow you to open up a non-retirement brokerage account with no upfront minimum, called the TD Ameritrade Standard Account. You can also fund such an account using payroll deductions, or you can simply use the account as a place to put windfalls as become available (tax refunds, bonuses, gifts, etc.).

You don’t have to begin trading in the account until you have enough money to begin investing, and you feel comfortable doing so.

I Bonds

These are small denomination US Treasury securities that you can purchase through Treasury Direct. You can purchase them in denominations of as little as $25.

These are actually US government bonds with terms running between one year to as long as 30 years. And not only do they provide annual interest income, but they also make semi annual adjustments for inflation. Interest and inflation adjustments are added to the face amount of the bond and payable when you redeem the bonds.

Bonus: I Bonds are tax-exempt for state income tax purposes.

Betterment

Betterment is what is often referred to as a robo advisor, and that can be the perfect investment account if you’re completely new to investing. When you sign up for a Betterment account, they have you complete the short questionnaire which determines your risk tolerance. From that risk tolerance they will establish a portfolio of exchange traded funds (ETFs) that will represent the allocation of your portfolio going forward.

This will enable you to take advantage of professional investment management but without the high upfront investment, or the high annual fees that normally come with it.

Betterment has no upfront minimum investment requirement. You can sign-up for an account, and commit to contributing a minimum of $100 per month – which you can do through payroll deductions. So you can simply begin funding your account, and never have to worry about getting involved in the technicalities of investing.

A Bank Savings Account

Failing all else, you can simply open up a bank savings account, and fund it through direct payroll deposits. Technically speaking, this is not an investment. However, it is an account that you can use to begin accumulating money until you have enough that you can move it into either mutual funds, ETFs, or an investment brokerage account that have upfront minimum account balances of say, $1,000 or more.

When it comes to investing, the single most important step is to get started. The fact that you don’t have much money should never be an obstacle. If you can carve a few dollars extra out of your budget each month, then you will have all that you need to start investing. But you have to take that first step.


I’d Like to Travel Everywhere Man

Last weekend I was working on an upcoming article that highlights the fun and affordability of some of the best regional summer events like festivals and events around the country.

I found myself wishing I had a solid month of vacation saved up so I could visit all of these festivals when the Johnny Cash song “I’ve Been Everywhere” came up on Spotify – followed by an appropriately timed ad for a travel credit card. With travel on my brain I was enticed to click on the picture of the Discover it ®Miles card superimposed on the wing of an airplane flying into the sunset.

SpotifyDiscover

With a trip to my sister’s wedding coming up and a family summer road trip to plan I thought maybe I should re-visit a travel rewards card. We don’t currently use one card because with little kids we don’t really travel that much.
Ever since we started a family I’ve stuck with a cash back rewards card but now that the kids are getting older and a little more “travel friendly” our chances for venturing out are increasing. I do feel a little guilty because we’re leaving our youngest at home with the grandparents when we travel out East.

We took her on a “trial” trip a few weekends back when we traveled to a tournament for my son’s soccer team. Her first experience staying in a hotel without a pack and play was a blast for her but pretty exhausting for us. Perhaps a travel card could be a way to relieve some of the guilt, we’ll earn rewards travelling without her that we can use when she’s a little older and travel ready : )

I haven’t done a lot of research lately on all that’s available in terms of travel rewards but what I learned about the Discover it ® Miles card was interesting.

You earn 1.5x Miles for every dollar you spend on the card. It would be good to use it a lot when you first get it because you earn double the Miles in your first year – with no spending cap. Looks like you don’t earn double as you go, they award them to you at the end of your first year. I know other rewards cards offer you a bonus when you spend a certain amount in the first 3 or 6 months. This approach isn’t tied to an amount, just a period of time.

One of the things I like about the card is that there’s no annual fee. This would be good for us since we don’t travel a ton. We do have a lot of things planned for this year but who knows what next year will bring. I would hate to pay an annual fee for a travel card in years where we never leave the state.

Along the same lines, the Miles don’t expire over time. If you don’t use the card for a year and a half or if you close it then they just credit your account with the current rewards balance. Although I don’t travel much internationally I did take a trip to Lithuania for a week last year and seeing the foreign transaction fees on my statement when I got back was rather unpleasant. One benefit of this card is that it doesn’t charge that pesky fee.

Since it’s a travel card it makes sense that you can redeem your miles as a statement credit towards travel costs you’ve charged on the card. So for example if you put a $450 plane ticket on your card you’d earn 675 Miles that you can apply towards the ticket charge.

Obviously, planning & saving for a trip is what makes it financially feasible. The travel rewards we earn on any credit card aren’t going to fund our travels. But if we’re going to be spending the money anyways I’ve always been a fan of earning rewards while we spend. I don’t know if we’re ready to make the jump from a cash back card to travel rewards but it’s something we’ll consider as we feel the bite of the travel bug this summer.


Keeping Up With the Joneses is Easy Because Being Different is Hard

Many of us – maybe most of us – spend a lot of money trying to match the lifestyles and spending patterns of the community around us. We even have a name for it – keeping up with the Joneses. Why do we feel compelled to do that? I suspect that in most instances, it isn’t a conscious decision. We do it mostly because keeping up with the Joneses is easy, because being different is hard.

Here’s what I mean:

Feeling “Normal”

In reality, “normal” is a subjective concept. No one is truly normal if normal means being exactly and precisely like everyone else in society. But there is a range as to what’s considered to be normal, and it’s mostly defined by society. For this reason, we’ll pattern our behavior off that of the majority. We’ll also adopt their preferences and spending patterns.

That last item is a big one as it relates to personal finance. If we adjust our spending patterns to match those around us, we can easily get caught up in a game of trying to match our neighbors – the theoretical Joneses – purchase for purchase.

Resisting that trend is difficult at best.

Being different – even “good” different – is hard. If your social circle is comprised largely of free spenders, you may find yourself on the outside looking in – socially speaking. Should you decide that you want to be conservative with your money, avoid debt, and invest for the future, you might become socially isolated.

Blending with the crowd is easy. Allowing others to define “normal”, then following their lead, can allow us to fit in neatly. Even if that normal doesn’t fit with your own definition deep on the inside, you may get a large measure of emotional satisfaction – and validation – by being a certified member of the group.

Your Source of Goals and Motivation

If most of your family and friends live in McMansions, you may decide that owing one yourself is an important goal. Life can be easier if your goals and motivations match those of the group around you.

Setting unique goals is hard. If you decide that owning a McMansion isn’t something you aspire to, that you’d rather live in a cracker box in a working class neighborhood and stay out of debt, you may lose your friends soon enough. After all, since your goals aren’t aligned with theirs, there’s a real possibility of geographic isolation, as well as economic and social.

Letting the crowd define your goals is easy. Once you’re in a certain social circle, one of the best ways to stay there is by having compatible goals and motivations. Even if you can’t really afford to keep up with everyone, you may drain yourself financially in order to retain your membership in the group for as long as you can.

Defining Success

If you don’t have a concrete idea as to what success is, it’s very easy to let it be defined for you by your social circle. This is more common than we think. Since most people have only a vague idea of what success is, they kind of tool along, moving forward, hoping to bump into it one day. Along the way they may adopt the attitudes of the group as a way to give the journey some meaning.

But it still won’t be your true version of success, but one you borrowed from others. In short, you’ll willingly allow others to define success for you.

Why would anyone do that?

Creating your own definition of success is hard. This means creating a definition of success that may be at odds with the group. If you define success as being out of debt, having a comfortable savings account, a promising investment portfolio and a very real prospect of early retirement, but most in your social circle define it as always having a late model car, taking expensive vacations, and always having the latest gizmo, you may not fit in.

Accepting cultural notions of success is easy. This gets back to not having your own concept of success, or perhaps lacking the confidence that you can ever achieve it. As such, you may default to the conventional norms of your social orbit, and spend your life pursuing a success defined by others. One of the benefits of doing this is greater acceptance by the group. They’ll even be there to reinforce your journey – after all, they‘re on the same journey you‘re on.

Living Life Your Way

This gets down to how you live your life every day. If you’re trying to keep up with the Joneses, how you live your life will even be defined by the group. This can affect what you do with your time, the type of work you do, the people you keep company with, and even your hobbies and forms of entertainment.

That’s a whole lot of your life being effectively controlled by others. How could anyone let that happen?

Living a life that’s unique is hard. If in the pursuit of financial independence you live a pretty basic life – a modest home, an older car, shopping in thrift stores, etc. – you may find yourself having little common ground with your more opulent neighbors. It will be hard to resist the free spending lifestyles they lead, at least until your bank account is large enough that you don’t care.

Living a life that looks like everyone else’s is easy. Keeping up with the Joneses is first and foremost the pursuit of conformity. It’s often easier to go along with the crowd than it is to chart your own course. It might be that most people are conformists and prefer to be with other conformists. What ever the reason, it’s much easier to go along with the crowd, than it is to be different.

How Keeping Up With the Joneses Affects Your Money

Keeping up with the Joneses might be amusing were it not for the fact that it involves a very real financial cost. After all, people who spend a lot and have a lot are perceived to be winners, and we all want to be winners. So we follow their lead, and hope that it all works out in the end.

But what if those leaders who “have it all” also have empty bank accounts? They could lead us right off the financial cliff with them.

Why don’t we try harder to resist?

Not spending money like everyone else does is hard. Even if people are heading for a financial disaster, their lives can look compelling before they get there. Blocking that out and pursuing your own financial goals is hard while it’s happening. You can’t help but get the feeling that you’re doing something wrong – at least until you reach early retirement, or one of the social leaders ends up in bankruptcy court.

Following social spending patterns is easy. In the modern world, so much of how we’re perceived is measured in money. Even if you don’t have much money, you still want to be perceived as having it by the people you’re trying to impress. Playing the game can be fun while it lasts.

As the saying goes, “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.” That’s what happens when you take the “easy” route and try keeping up with the Joneses.

Try the harder route of ignoring the Joneses – and you’ll like yourself and your life much better one day.


It’s Easy to Fall Behind on Retirement Because It’s Hard to Choose a Plan

Study after study about retirement indicates that Americans are worried about their ability to live comfortably later in life. Savings statistics also indicate that we aren’t saving enough for retirement.

One of the problems is that it’s easy to fall behind on retirement because it can be hard to choose the right retirement plan for you. The good news is that there are tools and strategies you can use to reduce the difficulty associated with saving for retirement.

Employer Retirement Plans

Choosing a retirement plan with your employer can be a daunting task, depending on what’s available. Some plans are limited, with only a few options available, while others have a long list. Having too many choices can intimidate us, since we don’t like the idea of choosing “wrong.”

First of all, realize that, while you can usually do better in your choice, the reality is that almost nothing is worse than not saving at all. So any fund that you choose from your employer’s list of funds is likely going to be better than doing nothing at all. This is especially true if your employer offers a match. When possible, contribute the amount necessary to get the maximum employer match.

Once you have calmed your nerves about choosing a plan, you can make matters easier by simply choosing something with broad market exposure. Most employer plans are going to have index funds that reflect the performance of major indexes, such as the S&P 500 or the Dow. You can also find index funds that reflect the performance of the market as a whole — including all publicly traded companies. This type of broad exposure to the market means that all you have to do is be along for the ride. Stocks, as a collective, have yet to lose over a 25-year period. This means that if you start now, and keep investing (especially with an employer match) for the next 30 years, there is a very good chance you will come out ahead.

Next, after you’ve decided on getting an index fund that covers a broad market, you can look at fees. Many index funds have very low management fees, and that means a better return for you. You might also have to pay plan administration fees. These should be fairly transparent now, thanks to recent regulations. As long as your fees are reasonably low, your employer’s plan is probably a fine choice.

Retirement Plans Beyond Employer Offerings

Not everyone has access to retirement investment plans at work. If you don’t have access to a plan, or if the cost is too high to justify investing more than what you need to get a match (you should also go for a match, since it’s free money), you might need to set up your own plan.

If you are looking to get started, don’t be put off by all of the choices available to you. Instead, start simple. Almost any online discount brokerage offers an IRA option. You can open an IRA with a brokerage and start investing. Most brokerages offer low-cost index funds and index ETFs. Get a broad, all-market index fund or ETF and you can save money. Many brokerages even offer their own ETFs with no transaction costs. It’s possible to find an index ETF with costs of between 0.05 percent and 0.25 percent without too much trouble. Use the brokerages proprietary ETF, and you won’t even have to pay transaction costs.

The important thing is to get started. Put in as much as you can to begin. Over time, as your resources improve, and as you learn more about investing and the opportunities open to you, it’s possible to look into other types of retirement accounts. The self-employed can use SEP and SIMPLE plans, as well as solo 401(k) plans. But the easiest thing to do is start with an IRA. Once you get started, and see how easy it is, then you can branch out.


Spending Money is Easy Because Saving Money is Hard

Spending money and saving money are like natural enemies. The more of one that you do, the less of the other that you’re able to do. If money were unlimited, you’d be able to do both without any stress. But that’s why the spending/saving balance is so complicated – most people have to make hard choices between the two. Unfortunately, saving money often comes up the loser in the conflict, which helps to explain why relatively few people in America ever save a substantial amount of money, and reach a place that looks even remotely like financial freedom.

Saving loses out because spending money is easy. And it’s easy for all the same reasons that saving money is so hard.

Let’s consider the areas of contention.

Controlling Natural Impulses

Spending money is something like our natural default setting. It’s largely impulse driven, which is to say that we’ll do it without even thinking. Overcoming this natural bias toward spending is a challenge, and no small one at that.

Why?

Self-denial is hard. Kids usually want everything they see, which is largely why TV is such an effective advertising medium (it’s visual). If we’re honest, then we have to admit that there’s more than a little bit of kid in all of us. When we see something we like, we want it. Denying ourselves goes against our emotions. Resisting only gets easier after you’ve been doing it for a while, which is exactly why most people never get that far. If it was easy, more people would have a lot more savings.

Giving in to your every whim is easy. Giving in to natural impulses is so easy. It takes no thought on our part, and it’s exactly what you’ll do unless you have the discipline to see what’s happening and stop it before it does.

Resisting “Everybody’s Doing It”

At least part of the bias in favor of spending money is cultural. Let’s face it, everyone wants the good life, and so do we. If we simply follow the cultural flow, we’ll spend money constantly. After all, if everybody’s doing it, we should be able to do it too, right?

Being different is hard. Emphasizing saving money over spending can make you seem a little bit odd. While everyone else is out buying new cars and wide screen TV’s on the latest holiday weekend, you’ll be resisting, and hoping to commit your extra money to savings. No following the herd to the mall for you.

Following the crowd is easy. To varying degrees, we all want to conform to the society around us. If everyone is buying the latest new-fangled gadget, we want it too. If you take your cues from the crowd, you’ll mostly be spending your money on what society considers to be important. And that’s actually easier than resisting the trend.

Embracing Delayed Gratification

Delayed gratification has become something of a novel concept that’s seen as a throwback to a less prosperous time. But it’s also the basic philosophy that saving money is built on. In order to save for later, you have to be willing to give up some comforts and luxuries now in favor of a more secure future.

Not everyone gets the concept of delay gratification. Here’s why:

Doing without now is hard. It seems counter-intuitive to do without something, especially if you can actually afford it. It takes discipline and courage of conviction to do without in favor of building a better future. And if we’re honest, we also need to acknowledge that the delayed gratification process is not as much fun as living in the moment.

Living in the moment is easy. It can be easy to throw caution to the wind and focus solely on living for the moment. It’s also an abdication of responsibility – and responsibility is another of those traits that we humans like to rebel against. And there’s no doubt either that living in the moment eliminates some of those annoying burdens, like planning for retirement or saving to send our kids to school. Life is easier when you don’t concern yourself with future obligations.

Until the future actually arrives…

Having Patience

Have you ever seen one of those prayers that says, Lord grant me patience – but hurry? I think it frames the problem well. Patience is another of those qualities that’s hard to come by.

And it’s also a fundamental part of saving money – one that‘s anything but easy.

Trusting your money to the future is hard. You have to be willing to save relatively small amounts of money – on a continuous basis – and be fully prepared to let it grow for many years. Reaching financial independence is never a short-term plan. It may take 10, 20, or 30 years to reach the point where all that saving finally puts you in a comfortable position. Not nearly everyone has that kind of patience.

Instant gratification is easy. It’s easy precisely because all the benefits are had right up front. It may even be a form of compensation – you buy little slices of the good life because you’re never certain that you’ll ever have the real thing. It’s another example of the inner-child running the financial show. It’s an emotionally satisfying short-term strategy, but one that can put you in the poor house permanently.

Embracing Financial Freedom

Virtually everyone wants financial freedom – but not everyone is willing to do what it takes to achieve it. Embracing financial freedom is having a plan, then committing to making the plan a reality. Wanting financial freedom is just a wish because it has no action behind it.

Why don’t more people see that? They do, and that’s part of the obstacle.

Working toward financial freedom is hard. Embracing financial freedom is about a whole lot more than cutting back on spending (though that is an important part of it). It often also involves working more hours (to increase income), taking risks, getting serious about an investment plan, and living a life that looks very different from everyone else’s. That’s more than most people are willing to commit to.

Wanting financial freedom is easy. Wanting financial freedom is “free”. You can talk about it, dream about it, watch it on TV and even read books about it. But until you commit time, effort and money to it, it’s just a feel-good adventure.

So there you have it – spending money is easy because saving money is hard. Are you willing to take some hard steps to secure a better future?


Coasting at Work is Easy Because Working For a Promotion is Hard

A lot of people wonder why they get passed over promotions – why the promotion always seems to go to someone else. Sometimes the reason is office politics. But most times it’s because most people coast at work. They do that – often unconsciously – because coasting at work is easy. But working for a promotion is hard – which is why most people avoid it at all costs.

Generally speaking, when employers look to promote someone, they are looking for an impact person – that person who stands above the rest in making a difference in the organization. Unless you are that person, the chance of you getting a promotion is slim.

Employers have expectations for all employees, but promotions usually go to the people who exceed those expectations.

For example…

Embracing Company Goals

Every employer, every department, has goals. They have to “make their (sales and net income) numbers”, and establish a set of goals that they believe to be the best way to accomplish it. Naturally, employees who are the most aligned with those goals are typically the ones who are most likely to be promoted when the opportunity comes around.

Embracing company goals is hard. It often means putting your own goals second. It can also mean carrying out a set of objectives that you don’t necessarily agree with – and doing it with enthusiasm. Though that may seem unnatural on an individual level, it’s an indication to the employer that the employee is able to subordinate their own interests for the good of the whole organization.

Going along for the ride is easy. Most employees don’t so much embrace company goals, as much as they ride them out. That is to say that they aren’t necessarily willing participants. They’re mostly going with the flow, recognizing it as a requirement for their paychecks.

Which quality is an employer most likely to favor in a promotion?

Being the Go-To Guy/Girl

In almost every department and every organization, there is a small percentage of the staff who represent key players. They are the people who step up and do the better job each and every day. Most people in the organization readily recognize this; the go-to guy or girl will be the first person they’ll go to when they need help.

Being the go-to person is hard. It means taking time out of your own schedule, and away from your own responsibilities, to either help someone else, or to troubleshoot a problem.

Relying on the go-to guy/girl is easy. It’s easy because you never need to worry about anything but your own work, and if you get into a tough spot, you can simply go to the go-to guy or girl for help.

Is an employer more likely to promote someone who only does their own work, or are they going to promote someone who others have come to rely on?

Taking Ownership of Projects or Tasks

One of the very best ways to position yourself for a promotion is to take ownership of important projects or tasks. Employers see people who do as management material.

Taking ownership is hard. The downside of taking ownership is that you are responsible for the success or failure of the project. Failure is an obvious risk, but success is not without its burdens either. In order to make sure that the project is completed properly and in a timely fashion, you have to put out extra effort, and generally more of it than your coworkers.

Letting others take ownership is easy. This is a low risk strategy for any employee. By avoiding putting yourself in a position to have responsibility, you eliminate the risk of failure.

But you also take yourself out of the running for a promotion. Moving into management, or into higher management, is all about taking ownership.

Learning New Skills

Learning new skills is a way to increase both your importance and your visibility in an organization. Acquiring new skills not only gives you the inside track with new techniques and applications, but it also puts you in a position to teach others. Since training is an important part of management, companies look for people who embrace new skills on a consistent basis when they need to fill higher positions.

Learning new skills is hard. Learning new skills requires extra effort. It also requires extra time, and time is often found in non-working hours. In order to learn the skills that will get you promoted, you may have to invest a significant amount of private time, and even some of your own money.

Stagnating is easy. Not only does this enable you to avoid the time and possible expense involved in learning new skills, but it also lowers the possibility that you will be given additional responsibilities.

By improving your own abilities, you increase your value to your employer. That makes you more likely to be promoted.

Helping Management and Co-workers

In any job situation, there are many employees who do no more than the required minimum. But there are others who make themselves available to help their coworkers and even management when those people are particularly busy and in need of assistance. Such an employee not only demonstrates a willingness to help others, but also the ability to manage their own workload in a way that enables them to have the time to do it. This is an attractive quality for promotion purposes.

Helping others is hard. In order to be in a position to help others, you have to have the willingness and ability to work harder, faster, and more efficiently than others. It may also require working additional hours, such as coming in early, working through lunch, or leaving the office late.

Letting others help you is easy. By not helping others, you’re able to devote 100% of your time and attention to completing your own workload. And you’re virtually assured that you’ll get out of work on time.

Getting a promotion only looks easy on the day it’s handed out. But the work needed to get you to that point – that’s not so easy.


Career Networking: Are You a Giver?

One of the things that always strikes me when I look for good advice on career networking is that a lot of the suggestions people make revolve around the idea that you need to be a giver first. This was also a theme I saw when helping put together a video about career networking using advice from attendees to the recent FinCon Expo in New Orleans.

This got me thinking about the way I network for my career, and wondering whether or not I’m a giver.

Why You Should Be a Giver First

It’s tempting to go into a networking situation with the idea that you will look for people and ideas that you can use, rather than worry too much about what you’re offering others. However, no matter how desperate you are to get something out of a networking experience, you can actually come out ahead when you start from the position that you will see what you have to offer others. Here are some of the reasons that being a giver first can benefit you in the long run:

  • Develop real relationships: If you want to develop a real relationship that goes beyond quid pro quo, it makes sense to be a giver. When you open yourself a little bit, and offer to help someone out, you open the door for a more meaningful relationship. In the long run, this could lead to a good relationship that has more benefits (not all of them directly related to a bottom line) than you originally thought.
  • Establish a good reputation: When people see that you are willing to give, they have a more favorable impression of you, and you can establish a good reputation. Do what you can to be helpful to others, and it will come back around as others enjoy working with you, and say good things about you.
  • You understand what others need more: One of the best ways to succeed in business and in your career is to understand what others need, and be able to provide it to them. This works in networking as well. If you make it a point to give your attention to others, and find out what problems they need help with, you can better show how your strengths can help out.

By giving first, and worrying about taking later, you can set up your networking experiences to provide you with lasting, long-term benefits.

How to Be a Giver in Career Networking Situations

When you attend your next career networking experience, make sure that you understand what you need to do in order to be a giver. One of the best things you can do as a giver is to ask questions about the other person. Find out what makes him or her tick, and ask questions about what they need.

You can also offer your help and experience. This can be difficult, since you don’t want to go down the rabbit hole of offering too much time and energy and “freebies” to the point that you can’t work on your own goals. However, giving a little time and attention to answer questions and offer your insights can be one way to be a giver. Let someone “pick your brain” for 10 minutes or so.

Don’t forget to look for deeper connections that can turn into partnerships later. When you give of yourself a little bit, and open yourself up to be a little bit vulnerable and establish good friendships beyond just career networking, you have the potential to reap great rewards down the road, through business partnerships, as well as through worthwhile personal relationships.


Being in Debt is Easy Because Getting Out of Debt is Hard

Have you ever wondered why so many people are in debt? Or maybe even why you’re in debt? It’s because being in debt is easy, and that’s because getting out of debt is hard. Despite all the advice from financial advisors telling people to get out of debt, many millions are still there.

Why is it so hard to get out of debt?

Saying NO to Yourself

The basic reason why anyone is in debt is because they spend more money than they bring in. They make up the difference with debt, which gives the illusion that they can “afford” the lifestyle that they’re living. You can reverse that cycle by learning how to say NO yourself.

Why don’t more people do it?

Saying NO to yourself is hard. This is an effort in self-denial. Instead of buying the desires of your heart, you must simply walk away from them – at least if credit will be needed in order for you to buy them. To do this you need to have a higher goal, like getting out of debt – but it‘s usually not fun.

Saying YES to yourself is easy. It’s easy because you’re going with your impulses. You see something that you like, and even if you can’t afford it our of your paycheck, you will buy it because you still have room on your credit lines. No discipline or resistance is required to operate in this manner.

Saying NO to Others

Sometimes it isn’t ourselves that we can’t say NO to, it’s others. It may be our spouses, our children, our friends or even our coworkers. But if you can’t afford to buy things for others without using credit, you will be doomed to a life of indebtedness.

Why would you let that happen?

Saying NO to others is hard. Though you may have the discipline to say NO to yourself, saying NO to others who you love tears at your heartstrings. You may even feel an obligation to go into debt for the benefit of others. This can be even more extreme if your friendships are based on a certain level of spending, such as expensive outings and all-too-frequent dinners out.

Saying YES to others is easy. When it comes to relationships with other people, it’s always easier to say YES and then to just move along. You can buy them what they want, and participate in all those activities that you can’t afford without credit. But at least you’ll avoid uncomfortable confrontations over spending.

Living Beneath Your Means

Unless you’re already doing it, learning to live beneath your means is like going on a financial diet. But it’s the key to getting out – and staying out – of debt. Since you live on less than you make, you have no need to borrow money, and you have extra in your budget to payoff whatever debts you already have.

If living beneath your means is such a basic way to stay out of debt, why don’t more people do it?

Living beneath your means is hard. Once again, it’s all about self-denial. You have to avoid buying a certain amount of products and services, even if you have the means to afford it.

Living above your means is easy. It’s easy because it means giving yourself at least a little more than you can afford, and doing it on a regular basis. It’s always easy to get used to having more. It’s never easy to get used to having less.

Saving vs. Spending

Some people have a natural orientation toward saving money, but that’s certainly not the case with the majority of people. In order to be a saver, you have to be willing to prioritize saving above spending. That doesn’t mean that you never spend money on things that you really want, but it does mean that you always have a line item in your budget for savings. And when you have enough savings, you no longer need to rely on credit.

But…

Saving money is hard. It’s hard because saving money has none of the immediate benefits that spending it does. You’re largely doing without, and moving the money instead into an account where it will collect and grow. In order to see the value of this, you have to have a strong orientation toward the future. That will mean doing with at least a little less in the present.

Spending money is easy. It’s easy because it requires no discipline, no self-control. You buy what you want, when you want, and there’s a certain undeniable liberation that comes from living that kind of lifestyle.

Until the credit card bills come due.

Paying Extra on Your Debts

If you are already in debt, the only way to get out is by paying more than the minimum to on your accounts. It may be only a small amount on each account each month, but over time it will make your debts disappear.

Why can’t more people do it?

Paying extra on your debts is hard. This really gets back to learning to live beneath your means, and dedicating the unspent cash to paying off your debts. It takes a lot of discipline, and saying NO to yourself, while others are saying YES.

Making the minimum payment is easy. A lot of people get so comfortable with monthly payments, that the biggest concern is for the monthly payment itself – not the size of the debt that’s attached to it. As long as they can handle the monthly payment, all is right with the world. No sacrifice or re-direction are required. It’s almost like functioning on automatic pilot.

Getting out of debt is hard. It will require a change in attitude and behavior. That’s why not everyone can do it. But it’s the only way out of the debt cycle.


The Five Most Expensive Traffic Violations

The cost of incurring a traffic violation has gotten much higher in recent years. Fines in many jurisdictions have doubled, tripled, or even more. Even worse – because they are recurring – are the insurance surcharges that apply after most violations. And at the extreme, some violations can even result in jail time.

Here is a list of what are generally the most expensive traffic violations you can have, in no particular order:

1) Reckless Driving

Reckless driving is a broad category, that can be defined differently from one jurisdiction to another. Generally speaking, it is driving in a way that endangers yourself and other people on the road. It can involve speeding, but there’s usually some element of danger that goes well beyond it.

Fines for reckless driving are generally heavy, but may also depend upon the seriousness of the violation. In extreme circumstances, reckless driving can lead to loss of license and even jail time.

Insurance surcharges can cause your premiums to nearly double. Should that happen, you may find yourself unable to afford auto insurance, and therefore unable to drive. In that situation, you may also experience economic impairment – since you have no car, you’ll be unable to get to work, and will likely lose your job.

2) Speeding

Speeding is probably the most common traffic violation, but it’s not always the most expensive. And how expensive it is will be a matter of degree. In most jurisdictions, there is a wide variation in fines between going 10 miles over the posted speed limit, and going say, 30 miles over.

Not only can fines be all over the place, but so can insurance surcharges. Much like fines, they are progressively higher the more you exceed the speed limit. Your insurance can rise more than 30 percent as a result of a single speeding episode. Multiple speeding tickets cause both the fines and surcharges to accelerate.

Though jail time is unusual in connection with speeding violations, if you accumulated several citations for speeding, your insurance company may drop your coverage after determining that you are an unacceptable risk. High-speed driving, after all, results in high-speed accidents. Those are usually the most extensive kind, the type most likely to result in serious injury and fatalities.

3) Driving Under the Influence (DUI or DWI)

This is generally the most expensive traffic violation you can incur. Insurance premiums can virtually double on a first offense, and fines can be prohibitive. Cancellation of insurance after a first offense, and certainly after a second, is hardly out of the question.

Once again there is the very real possibility of experiencing an economic loss as a result of this violation. Depending on the laws in your state, the loss of your license for a period of time is common. That can make earning a living very difficult, and even impossible. The loss of income will dwarf even the combination of fines and insurance surcharges – unless of course you are unemployed at the time of your incident.

This is not a violation to take lightly. Penalties are only becoming more severe as tolerance for drunk driving declines. As well, the loss of a job due to a DUI could end up being a career killing experience, that will leave your income permanently impaired.

4) Running a Red light

Like speeding, running a red light is a fairly common violation. This is particularly true given the confusion over right-turn-on-red provisions in many jurisdictions. Typically, you are required to come to a full stop before turning even where the turn is permitted. But it’s incredibly easy to forget to stop when you’re used to making such turns.

Unfortunately, the courts and insurance companies are not particularly forgiving over such a mental lapse. Again, the fines vary between jurisdictions, and can be particularly heavy in urban areas where there is a lot of pedestrian traffic. Insurance surcharges can easily run as high as 20%.

While it might be convenient to dismiss a right-turn-on-red violation, there is a fairly high rate of injury and even of fatalities connected with these violations. For that reason, jurisdictions are taking them more seriously all the time.

5) Careless Driving

Careless driving is the younger cousin of reckless driving. Where reckless driving is generally considered to represent a pattern of driving that is dangerous to anyone on the road, careless driving is more along the lines of a mental lapse. It could be something as simple as failing to use your blinker while changing lanes on a multi-lane highway.

Once again fines vary from one jurisdiction to another, and also by the fact that careless driving takes in literally dozens of offenses that range in severity. Insurance premiums to rise by 25% or more as a result of a single careless driving violation.

Though careless driving carries a much lighter cost than the other violations listed here, the combination of fines and insurance surcharges can raise your cost of driving considerably.

The best advice is to be more mindful of what driving activities rise to the level of violations, and do your best to slow down and stay in control. Getting a traffic ticket for something incidental and occasional is bad enough, but getting one that is the result of bad driving habits is something that you can and should control.


The “Miracle” of Being Debt-Free

Many millions of people struggle with being in debt. No matter how hard they try, they don’t seem to be able to get out of it. Like yo-yo dieting, they go from one failed strategy to another, never able to get control of their debt, and to eliminate it once and for all. The problem may not be the strategy. It may have more to do with motivation. If you have a clear idea as to why you need to be debt free it might be easier to accomplish, no matter what plan you use. There’s a “miracle” of being debt-free, and if you can grasp that concept, the problem may very well take care of itself.

Here are some of the components of the miracle of being debt free:

You’ll Be Free to Quit a Bad Job

How may times have you been tempted to quit your job, only to be stopped dead in your tracks by the realization that you can’t leave because you have debts to pay? That’s actually not an uncommon situation. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons why people continue to stay in jobs that are so uncomfortable that they become physically ill because of them.

It may not even be that the job is causing the ailments, but rather the perception of being trapped in an unsatisfying position.

Let’s look at the flip-side. Let’s say that you are in a bad job – a legitimately bad job, because of an overbearing boss, a weak organization, and even toxic coworkers – but you have no debt. In that situation, you probably won’t stay in that job long enough for it to ever take a physical toll. You’ll simply leave when it becomes clear that the job is beyond redemption.

That by itself can provide strong motivation to getting out of debt. Your ability to move between jobs will be so much easier if your life is not obstructed by debt.

You’ll Be Free to Start Your Own Business

One of the major reasons why people don’t start their own business is because of debt. The problem is that self-employment generally involves a period of time when income is seriously reduced. If you have large debts to pay, you probably can’t afford for your income to drop even as much as 10% per month before you will no longer be able to afford the payments.

It doesn’t matter if you have a brilliant business idea, and all of the skills necessary to make it a reality. If your fixed living expenses are too high, you might not be able to afford to risk a drop in earnings. That means that you are effectively locked into your current level of income.

If you do have plans to start your own business someday, one of the very best ways to prepare yourself for it is to begin getting out of debt right now.

You’ll Be Free to Make a Geographic Move

You have a dream to move to the mountains, to the beach, or even to a small town in farm country. But just as is the case with quitting a bad job or starting your own business, you can’t act on your desire because you have too much debt.

It often seems that big debts are part and parcel of the metropolitan lifestyle. This is because you need a metropolitan level income in order to make the debt service. But if the day comes when you want to step out of that metropolitan lifestyle, your debts will act like a chain-link fence around your life, preventing you from moving outside the pen.

Once again, if you have a dream to move into a different location – one where the income may not be so generous – one of the best ways to prepare for it is to get rid of your debt.

You’ll Probably Enjoy Your Work More

Have you ever seen that bumper sticker, the one that’s adapted from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, that reads something like this:

I owe, I owe, So off to work I go!

That’s kind of cute, wouldn’t you agree? But it’s also incredibly depressing. It implies that a debtor works mainly to pay his debts. What about working because you enjoy what you do for a living? Or because it enables you to live a comfortable life, and to do many of the things you want to do?

The sad reality is that when you’re buried in debt, work does become a burden. That’s because so much of your extra money is soaked up by debt, and that robs you of your ability to appreciate and enjoy your work.

My guess is that if you get out of debt, you’ll find that you’ll enjoy work a lot more. The burden will be lifted because you’ll have more control over your income. You’ll be working to create and live a certain lifestyle, rather than to service your debts.

You Can Live Life With One Less (Major) Worry

A debtor’s mind is never very far away from his or her debts. And if it ever is, the monthly bills that arrive faithfully are there as a reminder. Debt causes you to worry because it is an actual restraint. It limits your options to move forward in life, or even to solve short-term problems.

This can manifest itself in the form of constant worry, lack of sleep, permanent distraction, and even an inability to perform efficiently at work. The only solution to that problem is to get out of debt. And once you do, it will be something like getting a strike and knocking down all of the bowling pins of worry in life.

Debt is an option killer. The more of it that you have, the fewer options that you have. You can expand your options dramatically simply by getting out of debt. And you can seriously reduce the amount of worry that you live with in the process. If that isn’t a miracle, then I don’t know what is!

Are you motivated to get out of debt?



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