Archive for April, 2011

Smarty Pig Rewards Card: Finding the Right One for You

Personal finance

I don’t define myself as being frugal. I don’t mind buying the car of the year if I think I can afford it. And one thing I enjoy is rewarding myself for the accomplishments achieved throughout the year. This does not mean I would buy just any toy out there and get a bank loan to finance it.. So I would define my expenses as being priority-oriented. However, frugal tips and savings help me achieve this priority-oriented budget. I think that one good savings tip is to have a reward card.

Gifts Rewards Card or Cash Back Rewards Card?

Reward cards of all sorts are well-known. From the typical Air Miles to your local store credit card rewards, the choices are just about unlimited. Yet, it is easy to get trapped in a reward plan that might not satisfy your needs. I have in mind my Air Miles points running for more than ten years without much pay back. Maybe it is because I don’t travel that much and also because I don’t check out the “gifts” available for me as often as I probably should.

Therefore, I would rather advise you to find you a cash back rewards card. There are many cash back rewards cards on the market, most of them giving you a percentage of your purchases back in cash. To me, that can result in more savings than a defined reward like an iPod or travel tickets. You get to choose what you will be using it for, whether it is for your college tuition, your next trip to Europe or your car repair.

Credit or Debit Rewards Card?

Another concern towards rewards cards is the “credit” word often coming with it. Credit cards with rewards are obviously better than the ones without. MasterCard is one I use quite often because of that. Although my interest rate is very low, I still try to avoid overuse so I don’t get into credit card debt. Actually, one of my 2011 goals is to pay off this credit card of mine. So I am not sure how much it’s a good idea to rely on credit cards for rewards. You might end up purchasing more than you can actually afford.

So, if your goal is generating rewards with the money you already have, well a debit reward card seems to make sense. How does it work? You sign up for a card, load it with money and use it to pay your purchases. Every time you make a purchase, it gives you a reward in cash back. As I said above, what I like about it is that it is not a credit card, so you don’t owe anyone money, there are no interest fees and you get rewards in cash back. These cards suggest more a mentality of save-then-spend than one of spend-then-pay. They can be very nice for students, although I recommend you read all the disclosures to make sure you notice some other related fees such as ATM fees or Balance Inquiry fees.

The SmartyPig Cash Rewards Card

This is one of many cards I found about during my research. Why did I choose to talk about this one? Because it can be used everywhere they accept MasterCard, it gives cash rewards up to 10% of your purchases and it enables you to create short and long-term goals to achieve. It does not only reward in cash, but also helps reward good habits.

4 Tips to Completing Your MBA Without a Burnout

MBA topics

I recently shared my experience of completing a full time MBA. To be honest, it was quite an experience. During the same time, I switched job (to become a financial planner) just before starting my MBA program. Then, we had our second child, Amy, 3 weeks before the MBA start date. So just before starting an 18 month intensive MBA program, I switched jobs and had a baby… Not to mention that I also had to pass my final exams to get my CFP certification during an MBA session. How did I succeed in finishing my MBA, performing at work and still be able to spend time with my family? Here are my top 4 tips to pass your MBA without a burnout:

#1 Build a strong team and identify project managers

When you consider your teammates for an MBA, think about compatible personalities at first. If everybody gets along well, you will be able to face any project. I would rather have a smaller team of focused people than a gang including experts from different fields but that are not team workers. During your first meeting with your team, ask everybody what are their motivations for getting an MBA and what are their expectations from each other. Clear communication is crucial as they are the people you will see the most over the upcoming 2 years ;-).

You can also ask about the academic strengths and weaknesses of each team member. You will then be able to identify project managers for each research paper according to the strengths of your teammates. This will allow everybody to shine at one point or another.

#2 Setup your schedule and stick to it

On the personal side, you must establish upfront when you will go to your classes, read, study, get work done and be available for team meetings. These places in your schedule must be as stable as possible in order to make sure you have enough time to cover everything. It is very important to incorporate a steady study schedule so you don’t have to write until 3am during the weekend to finish your work ;-).

#3 Focus on what is important and ONLY what is important

During your MBA program, you will access a ton of information; books, articles, professor’s talks. It’s hard to differentiate between what is important or not but it is crucial as you can’t possibly assimilate all the information. A good trick I learned was to improve my speed reading and focus on the titles and sub-titles. If you can remember them, you will be able to quickly develop each concept in your homework.

#4 Forget about the school system, think practical

One thing I really liked during my MBA program is that learning everything by heart was useless. Therefore, you can differentiate people who have a great memory from people who actually understand and apply theoretical concepts.  It’s easy to learn most principles by heart; it just requires a lot of time. But no matter how close you are to being able to repeat concepts word for word, if you can’t apply it in the real life, it’s worthless. So each time you learn something new, think of how you can apply it at your job.  This will make your life much easier ;-).

In the end, completing the MBA program was one of the most interesting experiences I have had so far in my life. It was very demanding but I would do it again as I had a lot of fun with my teammates at the same time ;-).

MBA Programs – Which One To Choose?

MBA topics

mba programsA while ago, I had listed all the Universities offering MBA programs in Canada. Choosing the university where you will complete your MBA is important, but choosing the right MBA program is crucial. Things are not getting any easier as schools are multiplying the variety of MBA programs. So it is becoming extremely hard to choose the right MBA program for your need. Here’s how I made my choice:

Look at Where You Are in Your Career

Before looking at MBA programs, I think it’s important to look at where you are in your career and which career path you want to take. The choice of program will be determined not by what you are doing right now but more by what you want to do in the next 5 years. Are you looking to start your own business or manage an important department? In these cases, you would be better off with a general MBA program. However, if you are working in a specific field and you want an in depth knowledge while growing your network within the same field, an MBA specialization will be the best option.

MBA Program for Networking

If there is one thing I gained while doing my MBA is a huge network of professionals from several different companies. In my case, I decided to select an MBA program with a specialization as I wanted to stay in the same industry where I am right now. The decision was beneficial for my career as I know a lot more about the industry and my competitors. In fact, most of my network is outside of my current employer. Therefore, it helps me to stay informed of all the changes in the financial industry.

Choosing an MBA Program to learn a different dynamic

Another reason to choose an MBA program is to take one that is not in your field. If you choose this path, your program will be much harder for you (as most people take the MBA program in their specialization already). However, it will likely open doors to several opportunities for you as you will finish your MBA with strong experience in your business field, an important diploma plus knowledge in another business field. Some MBA programs can offer you a big jump in your career if you are looking to diversify your knowledge.

Final advice on choosing the right MBA program

Beyond all the advice I can offer about selecting the right MBA program, the most important is to pick a specialization that you love. If you don’t do your MBA program in something that motivates you already, you will find your ride pretty harsh. Since you will be working through the program for at least 18 months (you are better off doing your MBA program full time), it is very important to enjoy what you are doing!

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Full Time MBA Vs Part Time MBA

MBA topics

full time mbaHaving completed my MBA back in September 2009, I can tell you that I don’t think about all the effort and time spent on the MBA very often now. However, I remember that when I received my final mark, it was a feeling of pure relief. The weekends to follow were a bit weird as I was always expecting to receive an email from my MBA program manager or a colleague asking me even more questions on our final paper. But nothing happened. No more emails, no additional meetings, no “final” corrections to be done. Nothing. Finally!

2 years later, I enjoy the good life; I’m working 4 days a week in a financial institution, making more than enough to support my household and I can finally play with my kids during the weekends! So if you are asking me if a full time MBA is worth it? I would answer yes. In fact, there are several advantages of doing a full time MBA instead of a part time program.

Full time MBA vs Part time MBA – What is the difference?

In my experience, I had the option of doing it either full time or part time. The Part time MBA program was over 3 years with 2 days of class every three weeks. The full time MBA program was over 18 months with 3 days of class every three weeks. Both MBA programs had classes on the weekends (Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 9 to 5) and they were non-stop (summer school included!). Some people thought of doing it part time thinking that a full time MBA was too much combined with a full time job (yup, I did both at the same time). In fact, they were wrong!

The Full Time MBA is Easier

Easier? Really? Yup. The full time MBA is easier than the part time program. Why?  Here you go:

A) You are in the mood anyway

When you enter an MBA program, you must be in the mood to work hard and often. Therefore, there is not much difference between doing the full time or the part time MBA when you think of the work schedule. You are already planning MBA study time in your schedule and meetings with other students.

B) You can combine papers from different MBA classes

With 3 classes per session, we were able to take the same project and write 2 or 3 papers with different angles. For example, if we were implementing a new welcoming process in a bank branch, we were able to complete the project management paper at the same time as those for human resources and finance as well. While implementing a new process and calculating the net present value of the project, we were able to see how employees were reacting to the modifications of your day-to-day. We were then able to use data and research for both papers and save some time. With 3 classes at a time, it was easier to find ways to piggy back on each project.

C) You get your life back much faster with the full time MBA

The last reason why the full time MBA is easier than the part time MBA is because it is much faster. To illustrate my point, I’ll take the marathon and half marathon analogy: While you will obviously run faster and save energy doing a half marathon, it will still take you more time (and in the end more energy) completing two of them compared to one full marathon. Therefore, at the end of the road, you will recover much faster after a full marathon. It is the same thing with the full time MBA; as soon as you get your life back, you already feel much better ;-).

Full Time MBA Vs Part Time MBA – Final Thoughts

I know how doing the full time program might be scary. I was too, when I started. However, once you jump on the train, things become much easier if you do more at a time. In my opinion, the part time MBA will just burn you out, take the fast lane for you… and your family!

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Start Up Business Plan Day #5

Business & entrepreneurship

We are coming to the end of this series about making a Start Up Business Plan. If you have missed any articles, you can find them here:

Start Up Business Plan Day #1: Define your mision

Start Up Business Plan Day #2: Use SMART

Start Up Business Plan Day #3: What is going to work

Start Up Business Plan Day #4: What is NOT going to work

Now that you have a pretty good idea of what your business idea is and what you are going to do with it, it’s important to give yourself the right business structure. Since you are starting up a business, you may not want to invest too much in your business setup. Here are a few tricks for what you can do.

Legal Structure: Corporation or SelfEmployed?

This is probably the first question that comes to mind when we discuss the “structure” of a business. Do you need to create a corporation right away? The simple answer is no. However, the corporation can have several advantages (laws differ from one state to another so I’d rather leave you find out about everything you can or can’t do with a corporation).

The corporation will enable you to create a “second” entity as the corporation stands as a separate individual. Therefore, it earns its own income and has its own expenses. If you think you will grow your business into a serious venture, you should consider incorporation up front. The major downside of creating a corporation is the fees attached to it (registering, accounting, etc.).

If you are not too sure about whether you want to spend money creating a corporation, you might as well go with the self-employed route. This is quite simple as you collect revenues and bill expenses under your own name. Therefore, any income earned from your side business will be added to your personal income.

Who’s going to work with you?

The other point that is very important to consider is to determine who will work with you. Will you need an accountant? A lawyer? A part time employee? A virtual assistant?

At first,  I suggest you try to do most things on your own. You will learn the ropes while saving cash. Then, you can take a pause to determine what are “added value” activities and what you can outsource to a third party. Accounting and admin work seem to be the easiest tasks to outsource. You can actually find great resources through a virtual assistant. I personally use ODesk a lot.  This is a place where you can post your jobs and hire the right individual for what needs to be done.

Make it as simple as possible

What is really cool about start ups is that they are quite simple.  Keep your business structure as simple as you can so it remains flexible. Flexibility is definitely one of the key points you are looking for when creating a small business. If you have any questions about creating a start up business, feel free to send me an email at thefinancialblogger at gmail dot com.