5 Tips for Working with Job Recruiters

Job RecruitersIf you are looking for a job, one way to get your name “out there” is to contact recruiters. Job recruiters, also sometimes called head hunters, specialize in matching openings at companies with great workers.

When you work with a recruiter, you have the chance to get your name and your resume in front of a variety of companies, and even find the perfect job for you. But working with a recruiter requires planning and a little finesse.

1. Remember: The recruiter works for employers, not you.

The very first thing you have to realize is that job recruiter works for employers, and not for you. The recruiter is being paid to find a good fit for the company. This means that, even though you can work with a recruiter so that he or she has you in mind for job openings, you shouldn’t expect him or her to actively be finding you a job.

Recruiters are good contacts, and developing a relationship with a recruiter or two makes sense. But don’t expect the recruiter to be actively trying to find you a job. Instead, the recruiter is trying to find someone to fit a company’s need. This means that you need to be out actively looking on your own.

2. Dress to impress.

When you meet with a recruiter, remember that you are, in effect, going through an audition for a job. The recruiter wants to size you up for potential openings. This means you should show up dressed professionally for your industry. You should also make sure that your resume is up to date and makes use of best practices. Treat a meeting with a recruiter as a job interview, and come prepared with your elevator pitch, as well as information about your past job performance and your abilities.

3. Be honest about your abilities.

A job recruiter will want to know exactly what you bring to the table. Be clear about your skills, as well as what you can’t do. Project confidence in the skills you do have, and make it a point to demonstrate your expertise. You can also let the recruiter know about salary requirements and other important information.

If you are honest about your abilities and skills, the recruiter will be better able to identify which companies you might fit well with.

4. Check back with the recruiter.

While you don’t want to bother a job recruiter with daily phone calls, you can check back once every week or two. This can be a good way to make sure that you remain in the recruiter’s thoughts. Be sure that all of your interactions with the recruiter are polite and professional. Ask about potential openings, but don’t pester the job recruiter.

5. Take advice.

In some cases, job recruiters will tell you that you aren’t the right fit for a particular job. In other cases, a recruiter who thinks that you have potential will give you some pointers on making yourself more marketable. If a recruiter gives you advice, take it and thank them. If you can make a few small changes to improve your image or boost your marketability, the recruiter will be more willing to work with you.

Have you worked with a job recruiter in the past? Do you have any tips for the readers? Share them in the comments below!

5 Ways to Save on Air Conditioning Costs this Summer

air conditioningOne of the biggest contributors to high electric bills is summer air-conditioning. That should make finding ways to lower your air-conditioning usage a necessity. There are ways you can do this without investing a lot of time or spending a lot of money.

1. Make your home as airtight as possible.

Most of us are well acquainted with the idea of weatherproofing our house for the winter, but it often seems to be less important in dealing with the summer heat. But just as cold air flowing into your home reduces the efficiency of your heating system, heat coming in through cracks in the summertime force your air conditioner to work harder.

If you didn’t caulk or weather strip before this past winter, you should do so now before summer hits with a vengeance. Caulk any cracks around doors and windows, and weather strip any large spaces as well. You may have done so a couple of years ago, but both caulking and weather stripping have a way of deteriorating quickly.

A steady flow of hot air seeping in your house will not only cause your air-conditioning to work harder, but may also cause imbalances in room temperatures. For example, the temperature in an interior room could be 72°, but 79° in an exterior room with significant points of entry for hot air.

If you are not sure if you need to caulk or weather strip a door or window, use the light test. At night, turn off all the lights in a room, shine a flashlight around the edges of windows and doors, and if any light comes through from the outside of the house you’ll need to caulk or weather strip.

2. Make good use of fans.

If a particular room – or even the entire house – seems to be a little bit too warm, the problem may not be the air conditioner, but a lack of air flow. Sometimes all you need to do to fix the problem is to set up a fan in a room to keep the air moving.

Another good use for fans – particularly attic fans – is to use them on days when it’s not quite hot enough for air conditioning, but not quite cool enough to go without them. This can be late spring, early fall, or even at night.

3. Have your system serviced early in the year.

In an attempt to save money, many people avoid having their air-conditioning systems serviced until there is obvious evidence of a problem. But a better idea is to have it done at the start of the air-conditioning season, that way potential flaws can be remedied and your system will be at maximum operating capacity for the entire season.

It’s often thought that an air conditioner is breaking down, when all it needs is a Freon recharge. A blower that is doing little more than pushing warm air around the house is mostly wasting money. You can generally have this done for somewhere between $150-$200, and it will save you money on your electric bills throughout the season. This will also be an excellent time to replace your air conditioning filter if you have not done so already, as a clogged air filter will force your air conditioner to work harder.

4. Look into window treatments.

A home can look especially beautiful when sunlight is streaming in through the windows or skylights. But sunlight also warms the air in the building. Unfortunately, sunlight and air conditioning do not represent a happy marriage. In order to maximize the efficiency of your air conditioner, you’ll have to minimize the amount of sunlight that is coming into your home.

This does not mean that you have to cover all the windows in your home with room darkening shades, but you should look for some type of window treatments that will at least minimize the worst of the sunlight.

5. Raise the setting when you’re not home.

Probably the most wasteful thing you can do with air-conditioning is to set it at a single temperature in May, and not turn it off again until October. Yet this is what many people do, and they are spending a lot of money for no legitimate purpose.

You may need to set your air conditioner at 72° or 75° or whatever temperature you’re comfortable at – while you are at home. But if you are away on vacation, or during a work day when no one is home, you can easily raise the setting 80° or higher.

Unlike heat in the winter time, there’s no risk of bursting pipes – or any other disasters – that are likely to happen because your air-conditioning is either at a very low setting or completely turned off.

What strategies do you use to lower the cost of your air-conditioning during the summer months? Leave a comment!

How Debt Can Hurt and Help Your Career

career manWhen we think of the harm that debt can do, we often just think about the way it can lead to higher loan costs – or the risk of being turned down for a loan.

However, debt can also have an impact on your career. Depending on the job you want, and the situation you’re in, debt can be a real hindrance. In other cases, though, a little debt can make sense.

Employers Checking Your Credit

It’s becoming increasingly common for some employers to check your credit as part of the screening process. Technically, employers aren’t supposed to look at your credit score. However, they can look at a version of your credit report.

Since the information in your credit report is used to calculate your credit score, employers can get a pretty good idea of your financial situation just from the information in your credit report. In some cases, your credit report might raise red flags. If you are having trouble making your payments on time, or if you have a very high amount of debt, employers might be reluctant to hire you.

If you apply for a job that requires security clearance, or if you are in a position to handle money, employers might worry that you could be prone to bribery or embezzlement if your credit history shows difficulty with your finances. It’s possible that an employer just decides the risk isn’t worth it.

You do have to give your permission for a potential employer to pull your credit report, though. However, refusing to provide consent could just mean that you have something to hide. Some employers might see your reluctance as an admission that something is wrong, and decide not to hire you.

Using Debt to Get Ahead

Debt isn’t all bad, though. In some cases, it can represent an investment in your future. Taking out a small loan so that you can take a class or earn a certification that will make you more marketable can make a lot of sense. It can also make sense to earn a different degree if you are switching careers, or if you want to see some advancement in your current job field.

You still have to be careful, though. Even so-called “good” debt can go bad. Weigh the cost of the education against what you hope to realistically earn after completing your course of study. If a $8,000 training course can earn a certification that results in a raise of $10,000 a year, then it can be worth it take the loan now, and improve your skill set. Even if you only get a raise of $4,000 or $5,000 a year as a result, it can still be worth it to get that sort of loan, just because of the lifetime earning potential.

Make sure that you aren’t getting additional education just for the fun of it. While it can be a matter of personal satisfaction and achievement to get a degree, or continue your education, consider the cost of going into debt. If you don’t have a way to pay for it through a higher income, think twice.

What do you think? Is debt sometimes a smart choice? Or is it always a burden? Leave a comment!

How to Save Money on Prescription Drugs

save money on prescriptionsWe all have a healthcare cost “war story” to tell – usually several – but one area of rising concern is prescription drugs. We seem to be more dependent upon prescription drug therapies than ever before, and many people are on more than one. But like all things related to health care, prescription drug prices are rising rapidly.

There are a few ways to fight back at the high cost of prescriptions, and you may find that one or a combination of several of the strategies below will save you a substantial amount of money.

1. Get free samples from your doctor.

Anytime you get a prescription from your doctor, especially if it is a brand new one, you should ask for free samples. Not only will this save you money on the initial prescription, but it will also give you a period of time in which to gauge whether or not the drug will work for you.

Some doctors will not dispense free samples, but others will. They usually have a supply that has been given to them from the pharmaceutical company as an inducement to use their products. Go ahead and ask, it never hurts.

2. Insist on generics.

Doctors will usually write something to the affect of “allow generic substitution” on the prescription, but you should inquire about it specifically anytime you go to the doctor. Sometimes doctors will forget, so you should quickly remind him or her. The cost of generic prescriptions can often be just a fraction of what it is for name brands. This will be especially important if you do not have a prescription plan in your health insurance, or if your plan is subject to higher co-payments for name brands.

Still another consideration is formulary versus non-formulary. Formulary is a list of medications that are approved by your insurance company. They are medications that will be covered as stated in your plan. However, if the medication is not on their approved list – meaning that it is non-formulary – you will generally pay more for the prescription, and may even have to pay the entire amount.

Your health provider should know if a given drug is formulary for your health insurance company, but it may be worth a call to your insurance company or a visit to the website to make sure that it is before going to the pharmacy to get it filled.

3. Find large chain discounts.

Large chain pharmacies often offer discounts on prescription drugs. Some of the big box pharmacies are offering $4 generic prescriptions on a long list of medications. But even if they don’t, you can surf around their websites for a while and see what other kinds of offers they have.

Target’s RX Free Card allows for discounts on prescriptions of up to 80% off retail prices for generic drugs, and 15% off the price of brand names. You can get the card free of charge, and that not only covers prescriptions for you and your family, but also for your pets.

4. Buy in larger quantities.

A growing strategy to save money on prescriptions is to buy them in larger quantities, and you can usually do this through mail order providers. You can usually save substantially if you purchase a 90-day supply of your prescription, compared to three 30-day refills at your local pharmacy.

This is easiest to do with the most common medications, and it does have its limits. If a prescription is considered to be controlled – such as medications for ADHD – you will not be able to purchase larger quantities, nor will you be able to do it through the mail.

5. Get serious about your health.

One of the best ways to save money on prescriptions is one of we don’t usually think much about, and that is to improve your health. Prescription drugs often become necessary as a result of neglected health. Poor lifestyle choices are responsible for health conditions in a majority of cases. By making better lifestyle choices, it is often possible to eliminate long-term drug therapies.

Many people go on drug therapies early in life, and that results in a pattern of increased dosages and even “drug cocktails” (multiple prescriptions for the same health condition). This leads to ever-increasing prescription costs. But by losing weight, eating better, exercising regularly, reducing stress in your life, and eliminating habits such as smoking and excess drinking, you will not only improve your overall health, but you could also lessen or end the need for medications. Complete elimination of a drug therapy is the ultimate way to save money on prescriptions!

What are you doing to lower the cost of your prescriptions? Leave a comment!

5 Ways to Pay Off Your Mortgage Early

pay off your mortgage earlyNext to achieving a fully funded self-directed retirement account, paying off your mortgage early is probably the Holy Grail of personal finance success. As well it should be – once you’ve paid off your mortgage, your monthly living expenses take a dramatic drop. That opens up the opportunity to save even more money than you ever have in the past.

Since paying off your mortgage early is so desirable, what are some ways to do it without having to completely rearrange your finances?

1. Refinance the loan to a shorter term.

One of the most efficient ways to pay off your mortgage early is to refinance the loan to a shorter-term. Let’s say that you have 25 years remaining on what was originally a 30-year loan. By refinancing your mortgage to a 15-year term, you chop 10 years off the term with a single action.

This works especially well if you lack the discipline to use other methods to pay off your mortgage early. Since your new loan amount will be fixed, you’ll be forced to make a higher payment that will retire the loan in much less time.

The downsides of refinancing are that (a) you will have to pay closing costs in order to do it, and (b) it’s a strategy that won’t work if rates are higher than what they are on your original loan. In fact, you’ll probably be entirely unlikely to refinance if your interest rate will increase even a little above what you have now. In the right rate environment, refinancing will work well. But if rates are running against you, you may have look at other means.

2. Increase your mortgage payment by the same amount each month.

This is perhaps the simplest way to pay off your mortgage early. You simply increase your monthly mortgage payment by a specific amount that works well for you, and gradually chop years off the term of the loan by doing so. If you ever hit upon a cash flow problem, you can always revert back to the original payment.

Let’s say that you have a $200,000 mortgage for 30 years at 4%, and your monthly payment is $955. If you took the loan in 2013, it will be paid off in 2043. But look what happens if you add just $100 of extra principal each month: the loan will be paid off in 2038 – five years ahead of schedule.

If you add $200 in extra principal each month the loan will be paid off by 2034, or nine years ahead of schedule.

You can run different payment scenarios by using a mortgage amortization calculator. It will help you to find an extra payment amount that fits neatly within your budget.

3. Make one extra payment each year.

Using a biweekly mortgage payment plan is another way to pay off your mortgage sooner. Some mortgage lenders will allow you to set up such a plan on an existing loan, however others may require that you refinance specifically into a biweekly mortgage.

But you can achieve the same result without having to enter into a formal biweekly mortgage payment plan. The net effect of a biweekly mortgage is that you end up making approximately one extra monthly payment per year. You can do this on your own, simply by quite literally making one extra mortgage payment per year.

To show you how that works mathematically, with a biweekly mortgage, you’ll make 26 payments per year. If you divide the 26 payments by two, you get 13 monthly mortgage payments. You can make that 13th payment without having a biweekly mortgage.

Using the same mortgage example that we used above, if you make one extra mortgage payment per year – $955 – you’ll reduce your mortgage term by a full four years (2039 vs. 2043).

4. Pay it off in chunks.

If you don’t have the discipline to make additional monthly principal payments, you can also pay off your mortgage in chunks. Most of us have some extra cash come in on a fairly regular basis. If instead of spending extra money on other purposes you use them to prepay your mortgage, you’ll be well on your way toward paying off your mortgage early.

Using your tax refund is an excellent source. The average tax refund in the U.S. is a little bit higher than $3,000. But say that you redirect your refund into your mortgage each year. By doing so, instead of paying off your mortgage in 2043, you will pay off in 2033 – 10 years ahead of schedule. You’ll have effectively converted a 30-year mortgage into a 20-year mortgage without having to refinance, or make additional principal payments every month.

5. Set up a “sinking fund” to retire your mortgage.

If you are a saver by nature, this could be the preferred choice for you. You simply create a dedicated savings account for the purpose of paying off your mortgage early. Just as you would with any other savings plan, you will make monthly contributions to the account until you reach the point where the balance in the account is sufficient to payoff your mortgage completely.

Businesses and institutions use this method to retire bond issues. The strategy is referred to as a sinking fund in the business world.

This has at least two major advantages: It allows you to keep your mortgage interest tax deduction maximized until the day you pay off your mortgage, and it enables you to have control of the funds prior to payoff, which will give you options in the event that your plans or circumstances change.

You should be able to use at least one of these strategies to pay off your mortgage early. At least one of them should fit within your budget and your personal preferences.

Have you tried any of these strategies? What other methods can you suggest to pay off your mortgage early? Leave a comment!

3 Ways to Backup Your iPhone or Android

AndroidI just bought my first iPhone, and I’m already enjoying the features associated with it. I’ve already moved a decent chunk of my life to the iPhone. As a result, I would be rather put out if my device were lost, stolen, or damaged.

Your iPhone or Android device likely has photos, apps, and other information that you don’t want to lose. Just as you (hopefully) backup your computer, you need to backup your phone. Here are some ways to backup your iPhone or Android device:

1. The Cloud

One way to ensure that your data is saved in another location is to use the cloud. With iPhone, your information can be automatically backed up to iCloud. You can enable backup on your phone by going to Settings, choosing iCloud, and then selecting Backup & Storage. You just need to make sure that your iPhone is connected via Wi-Fi to the Internet, with the screen locked, and connected to a power source. You have free unlimited backup for the movies, TV shows, apps, books, and music you purchase. Other items, such as your photos and videos, are free up to 5 GB of space.

G Cloud offers similar services to Android users. You need to set up an account and a password, and store up to 1 GB of data for free. You can also engage in social actions (Facebook mentions and invitations to friends) to increase your storage up to 8 GB. You can keep your messages, contacts, calendar, apps, and other items in an Amazon AWS cloud storage locker with the help of G Cloud, and then restore the information when it’s lost or put it on a new device.

There are numerous apps and websites out there, with various price tags, that allow you to back your data up to the cloud.

2. Your Computer

You can also backup your iPhone or Android device to your computer. With the help of a USB cable, you can get your Android phone to appear as an external drive. Then, you can drag the files you want to duplicate to your computer. If you are dragging from an Android to a Mac computer, you might need to get the Android File Transfer application to make it work.

For your iPhone, you can follow a simliar process. Your iPhone should automatically sync and backup to your computer when you plug it in. However, if you’re like me, you’re all about the manual sync. This works just as well. Open iTunes, and look under the Devices menu. Select your iPhone and then select Back Up from the drop down menu. It’s an easy way to back up your iPhone as needed.

3. Keep the Information Elsewhere

One way I started backing up my photos was to put them on Facebook. Others backup their data with the help of Flickr and other apps. You can also backup some of your other information (such as a contact list) by sending via email so at least you have it. Apps like SMS Backup + sends your threads to Gmail, storing them in the email program under the SMS label.

You can also pay for services that offer online backup. MyBackup Pro is just one of these services. There are numerous online backup services for your computer, and many of them work for your mobile devices as well.

Carefully consider how you can backup your phone for restoration in the event that it’s needed. You don’t want to be caught data-less when a problem arises with your iPhone or Android device.

How do you backup your phone? Leave a comment!

3 Home Energy Scams to Avoid

Fraud and ScamWith summer coming up, consumers once again want to figure out how to save more money on their home energy costs. Indeed, saving money on home energy becomes more important during winter and summer, when more extreme temperatures demand more from air conditioners and furnaces.

Looking for ways to cut your costs is smart, but you need to be careful. There are plenty of products and services out there that claim to help you save money on your home energy costs. You need to make sure you know the difference between a legit offering and a scam.

1. Energy Audit Scam

One way for you to pinpoint the energy leaks in your home – and figure out how to plug them – is to get an energy audit. There are legitimate energy auditors out there. And, unfortunately, there are also a lot of scammers.

Some scammers offer you a free energy audit. At the end, they try to sell you specific (and expensive) products designed to improve energy efficiency. The worst offenders, though, are those that recommend certain services, like installing additional insulation, take a “down payment” from you, and then disappear without arranging for any of the work. You can install additional insulation yourself and avoid this scam.

You can usually get a home energy audit for around $50 to $100. It’s also possible, in some cases, to call your utility company and arrange for a free home energy audit. You can also perform your own home energy audit with one of the many free checklists available online.

2. Power Factor Optimization

The thought behind these types of devices is that you reduce the amount of reactive load, or electricity that is wasted as heat, from your home. At first blush, this seems like a good idea. The pricey gizmo has to be specially installed, and it is something that has been adapted from industrial use to home use.

Unfortunately, even if the device you’re being sold works as advertised (to balance current and voltage), it won’t do you much good. Why? Because most utility companies only measure the resistance load – the load in the electric circuit that does all the actual work – for residences. For the most part, your reactive load isn’t even being measured. Any savings from this device would be extremely tiny.

Huge industrial installations can get some benefit from these types of devices because the reactive load due to equipment use can be significant enough to matter. In your home, though, it’s unlikely that the utility is even charging you for the reactive load. Buying a power factor optimization device is usually pointless.

3. Make Your Own Alternative Energy

There are some legitimate instructions on how you can create your own alternative energy devices. There are backyard windmill kits and build-your-own solar panel kits. However, in order to do it right, you might need an electrician to help you out – or at least double-check your work. Buying the tools and equipment might also be quite expensive.

On top of these difficulties, you need to be aware that there are plenty of scams out there, too. There are dozens of scammers selling fake plans that don’t actually work, or getting you to shell out for videos and programs that don’t actually tell you how to do anything. Be wary of these do-it-yourself kits. Some of them work, while others are just scams.

Before you buy a kit or pay for a DVD, search online for reviews, and check for Better Business Bureau information on the company providing the instructions or kit. Protect yourself against these types of scams by being skeptical of what homemade energy solutions are actually feasible.

What other home energy scams have you come in contact with? Leave a comment!

How and Why I Became a Landlord

rentalI am a risk adverse person by nature, so becoming a landlord is not a natural thing for me. But here I am, a landlord with two rental properties, and looking forward to more. This article is my story about how I became a landlord and why I did it.

I have always had a mixed feeling about becoming a landlord. I hear too many horror stories about bad tenants that you can’t evict, midnight calls, maintenance problems, and much more. On the other hand, I don’t personally know anyone that does any of these bad things as a tenant. Also, the idea of owning a real asset that generates cash flows, appreciates in value over time, and comes with tax benefits is very appealing to me. For years – nay, decades – I have thought about this, but never pulled the trigger.

In the meantime, I built up my fledgling personal finance blog in to a profitable business. But my site is way too dependent on the good grace of search engines that I am fearful my income could dry up overnight. So the same risk adverse-ness is now driving me to find another business that is stable and based on real physical things (preferably), and it has to take very little time to manage so I can continue my other pursuits.

Finally, I was able to set aside enough money last year to start thinking about getting into a rental property again. Letting my money sit, even in the highest interest paying savings account, just wasn’t enough for me. And adding more money to my stock investments didn’t meet my goal of diversifying my income sources. Several conversations with my wife later, we found ourselves looking at homes and going to open houses on the weekends.

We saw a dozen houses and spoke to just as many agents. We realized a few things: (1) we have a lot to learn, (2) some agents know more than others, and (3) it would be nice if we could find someone to coach us through the process.

After several weekends, we were close to giving up the whole idea of becoming a landlord. However, we found an unusually inexpensive house on Zillow in a nearby neighborhood, so we submitted a request online. When we went to see the house we ended up in a scary neighborhood, which we didn’t even know existed this close to where we live. Being there after dark didn’t help either. The agent was waiting for us with a big smile, which wasn’t too comforting . . . maybe he was there to rob us! Just kidding.

But things changed quickly inside – the agent spewed out great tips and ideas one after another. My wife and I quickly realized this was the “coach” we have been looking for. Obviously, we didn’t buy the house we saw that night. We were too scared to rent out such a place.

Over the next 8 weekends, we met up with Mike (our agent and coach), to see more houses. He taught us about the local neighborhoods, what to look for in a house, how to become a landlord in Virginia, how to find tenants, how to deal with tenants, house buying and negotiation techniques, and many more land-lording tips and tricks. We ended up buying a house about 40 minutes away from where we lived and managed to rent it out before we even paid the first mortgage bill!

Our first rental was profitable after seven months. The house is cash flow positive from the start, but that is how long it took for the monthly profit to cover all of the closing costs, repairs, and other operational expenses. As a bonus, money is not coming out of our pockets, so our tenant is effectively paying our mortgage and building our equity in the house. Lastly, we were able to depreciate the cost of the house (not including the land) over the next 27.5 years. This turns out to be a significant tax deduction for us.

Now that we have a good handle on our first rental, we worked with Mike and bought a second rental this year. Things are going along well and we already found a tenant for it. Hopefully, we will be able to buy more soon, or even explore the possibility of buying a larger multi-units rental property or even an apartment building. I am hoping to build our “real” business like we did with our online one . . . start small an keep working at it until it grows into a full-fledged business.

I hope you enjoyed this story about how I became a landlord and that it helped you in some way. If you want to become a landlord, check with your local government because they usually have a lot of resources available for both tenants and landlords. And take the time to find someone that can take you under their wings and coach you throughout the process.

Are you thinking about becoming a landlord? Why or why not? Leave a comment!

Pinyo is the owner of Moolanomy Personal Finance and an entrepreneur with over 20 years of business experience. He has a strong interest in business management, investing, and wealth building.

7 Ways to Save Money on Jewelry

Gold ornaments and dollarsThere’s something about having a little bling that can make anyone feel a little bit better. While I don’t wear a lot of jewelry, I do like to have a few items (in addition to my wedding band) that I enjoy – and that I can wear for special occasions.

Buying jewelry, though, can be expensive. If you want to save money on jewelry, here are some cost-saving techniques:

1. Avoid the chain stores.

That jewelry store in the mall? The galleria on the corner? It’s going to have a huge markup. I know someone in the jewelry business; he tells me the markup on jewelry in the chain stores can be as much as 700% or 800%.

Consider a smaller, independent jeweler. For years, my parents drove an hour to the small shop owned by one of their old friends. The quality of the jewelry was higher, and the prices lower, than what was seen in the chain stores. Shop around and compare prices.

2. Look online.

It’s possible to find high quality jewelry on the Internet at discount prices. Without salespeople, premises, and other overhead costs, online jewelers can offer lower prices. And, of course, if the seller isn’t adding a huge markup, that helps too.

You do need to be careful when buying online, though. Deal only with reputable sellers with generous return policies.

3. Get the gem properly certified.

Make sure that the jewelry you buy is properly certified by the American Gem Society or the Gemological Institute of America, especially if you are paying a lot. Take it to an independent appraiser with the right qualifications.

Whenever you buy, ask to have the specs of the gemstone and the metal in writing. Then, take it somewhere to be verified. That way, you know that you got what you paid for.

4. Buy in silver.

With gold prices near $1,500 an ounce, many jewelry-buyers are seeking silver. I’ve always preferred silver, so this isn’t an issue for me, but those who like gold might find it necessary to “settle” for silver if they want to save. If you must have a little of that yellow color, you can buy silver jewelry with gold accents to keep down the price. When you buy silver, though, you need to know how to care for it so that it doesn’t tarnish.

5. Consider alternatives to diamonds.

I’m not a huge fan of diamonds. They’re expensive, and a little boring. My favorite gemstones are emeralds and sapphires. I also like pearls. However, these can get a little pricey, too. But they often cost less than diamonds. If you don’t have to buy diamonds, you can save on jewelry by purchasing pieces set with other stones.

6. Buy used jewelry.

You don’t need to buy something new. In fact, you can get great deals at pawn shops, and by using the Classifieds. Online auctions and estate sales can also be good places to buy used jewelry. You do need to be careful, though, since you might not be sure that you are getting something genuine in a private sale. When possible, ask for certifications, and ask if it’s possible to hold the funds in escrow or make other arrangements while you have the jewelry properly certified.

7. Remember that bigger isn’t always better.

If you want to get the best bang for your jewelry buck, especially if you are buying diamonds, remember that there’s more to a truly valuable gemstone than size. Clarity, color, and cut also matter. Sometimes, bigger gems have more flaws. You might be paying more because some jewelers get you to focus on the size, and pay for something big. However, a large stone with many flaws might not, in actuality, be more valuable than a smaller stone with fewer flaws. But if you don’t know that, you might end up paying more because you’re dazzled by the size.

What are your best tips for saving money when buying jewelry? Leave a comment!

5 Ways to Lower Your Investing Costs

investing feesNot too long ago, investing was seen as something expensive . . . something that only the rich could do. Now, though, that’s changed. Investing is something almost anyone can do.

However, investing can still get expensive. If you pay relatively high investing costs, usually due to fees, commissions, expense ratios, and taxes, you could see lower overall returns.

If you want to make the most of your investing dollar, here are some ways to lower your investing costs:

1. Know what you’re paying.

The first step is know what you’re paying in terms of investment costs and fees. If you are concerned about the fees you are paying on assets in your 401(k), you can use tools like Personal Capital to analyze your fees and recommend other options for your portfolio.

New disclosures on your 401(k) statement should tell you exactly what you are paying. It’s also a good idea to get some help looking over the tax implications of your investing strategy, to see where you could save. Know the fees you are paying at your brokerage, and be ready make changes as necessary.

2. Comparison shop.

Now that you know what you are paying in fees, you can comparison shop. If you are paying $9.95 for a stock trade, you should probably know that there are brokers that charge much less, some as little is $4.95. Take the time to look for brokers and investments that come with lower costs. From brokers that will let you reinvest dividends without paying transaction fees, to no-load mutual funds, look for the best deals. When you find a better price, replace your old, more expensive investment, with a new, less expensive asset.

3. Consider indexing.

If you buy actively managed funds, you can consider index funds. Index funds usually come without sales load fees, and often have much lower expense ratios. If you really want to see low expense ratios, you can consider an index ETF. There are ETFs with expense ratios as low as 0.04%. That’s an amazing way to save money on fees, especially over time, as your portfolio grows.

While indexing isn’t for everyone, and you should review your goals before making changes to your investment strategy, using index funds and/or ETFs can be a great way to lower your investing costs.

4. Look for no-cost options.

For investors who are interested in funds, it’s possible to avoid paying commission/transaction costs. Many brokers have a selection of funds that are no-cost, meaning that you won’t pay a transaction fee when you buy shares. You still have expense ratios, so pay attention to that information, but you won’t have to worry about transaction costs. Many brokers also offer commission-free ETFs, so you can take advantage of the low expense ratios.

Consider your options at different brokers, and pay attention to minimums and other account requirements. Also, realize that your selection of commission-free funds might be a little limited.

5. Move your money to a tax-advantaged account.

If you are concerned about how much you have been paying in taxes, you can move your money to a tax-advantaged account. Traditional accounts, like 401(k)s and IRAs, grow tax-deferred, meaning you get a tax deduction for your contributions now, and you aren’t taxed on your earnings until later. This allows your money to stay in your account and grow more efficiently, since you aren’t taxed immediately.

It can also make sense to use an account where your money grows tax-free. Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)s require that you make contributions after you pay your taxes. However, the money in these accounts grows tax-free; you are never taxed on your earnings. Many investors like to hold dividend stocks and Treasury securities in Roth accounts because the interest/payouts from these investments are never taxed. This can be a way to lower your investing costs over time.

There will always be costs associated with investing. However, with the right strategies you can lower those costs and keep more of your money.

What are some other ways to lower your investing costs? Leave a comment!

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