Archive for February, 2012

The $1,500 Summer Experiment

Personal finance

The one thing that I’ll always remember about the summer of 2003 is that I managed to save $1,500. Yes it took me all summer to save up $1,500. Did I mention that I worked every single day to save that money? Did I mention that I used to ride my bike all around town from job to job?

It was the summer after grade 10. For some odd reason, I’ve always been a greedy kid. I was I could say that I have some inspirational story of something. But I don’t. I’ve never been in debt. I’ve always just been hungry for money. I’ve always had money on my mind.

Today I wanted to write about this $1,500 experiment and how I managed to start saving money in high school.

How did I save $1,500 while working minimum wage jobs?

Saving was my main focus.

My main priority for that summer was saving money. I didn’t care for hanging out and watching television. I didn’t want to sleep in all day and lounge around. I didn’t want to be a typical kid on a high school break. I wanted to save as much money as possible. I knew that to do so I also had to put the work in. I wasn’t afraid of work.

My goal was to make as much money as possible.

I did my best to create as many income streams as possible. I knew that my one $7/hour job wasn’t going to cut in. One job didn’t give me enough shifts nor did it allow me to make as much money as I wanted to. On top of all of this, I also wanted to use my time wisely instead of just lounging around.

How did I make money that summer?

  • I worked part-time at a grocery store.
  • I did lawn care in my community.
  • I was a soccer referee.
  • I found odd jobs in my spare time.

I deposited money every single day.

This will sound odd, but I pretty much went in every single day to deposit money. It didn’t matter if I had $10 or $100 because I still went in. The bank teller must have thought I was a weird kid. I remember once depositing 8 bucks. Yep a whole 8 dollars! I just got into the habit of locking my money up. I knew that if I had money in my pocket I would spend it on food or on a magazine or something random.

I learned about cutting back on expenses.

When you start making money as a kid you realize that you need to spend some money. When you work all day, you’re going to have to eat something. You’re going to have to get to and from work somehow. You’re going to have to spend money to make money. This forced me to learn on how I can cut back on my expenses so that I can keep more of my hard earned money.

That was my $1,500 summer experiment. Was there a summer in your life as a kid where you were happy to save money? Please share it with us here.

Experiments with My Business

Business & entrepreneurship

“When your business is ready for change, you must change it.  If you don’t, things will get bad.  Sales will slow or refunds will soar, or your best employees will walk out on you.  If you stubbornly insist on sticking with the old ways, the damage could become irreversible.”  -Michael Masterson, Ready, Fire, Aim.

I’ve been in business six months now.  That doesn’t provide too large of a sample size, but it’s enough time for me to start realizing some of the flaws in my business practices.  You see, I’ve never had any formal business training.  I’ve read a ton of books about business and worked towards my “Personal MBA” (, but mostly I’ve learned and worked to improve within my field.   Now, I have both a “profession” and a “business.”  A great book on this dichotomy is Michael Gerber’s “The E-Myth.”

Experiments with my Business

Systematic Marketing

One of the biggest problems with my business is a reliance on “fairy godmother” type new business generation.  I’m always counting on a referral or a big break.  I’m not sure where it will come from, but like the Field of Dreams I’m hoping to just “build it” and hope they come.  Although in a professional business referrals are important, this mentality has left me feeling anxious.  It has also led to many up and down months.  I would like more consistency.

One of the things I’ve learned from my business readings is the importance of a systematic marketing plan.  For instance, perhaps I should be sending out a certain numbers of mass mailers each month.  If I can get to the point where I know how much business these will bring in, per every thousand sent (for example), then I will have a better idea of business generation and how to grow my business.  The same would apply for advertising or other marketing endeavors.

Web Presence 

Another part of my business that has been hit or miss is client generation from my web presence.  Sometimes my website will get me two new leads in a day.  Then I might not get a single call from my website for a month.  I suppose that’s to be expected with a new website, but I’ve redesigned and hired someone to do a little SEO consulting.  I’m hoping these will create a more regular stream of business leads.

Can My Business Run Without Me?

Well no–I’m its only employee right now.  But one of the thing’s Gerber’s book pointed out was the need for the business to not rely totally upon its owner.   If it does, then you will never be able to sell the business (when the time comes) for the price it deserves.  I have seen blogs sold where a “committee” of writers take over—and have seen this done with success—but I also think there is a value in being able to keep your business running even if, for example, you have a major health problem.

I’ve tried writing out instructions for my business in hopes of making it easier should something happen to me or should I bring in employees.

Emphasis on Customer Service

Everyone likes to preach customer service, but few deliver.  In Joe Calloway’s great business book Indispensable, he makes the point that (and I’m paraphrasing here) ‘every business has a mission statement promising great customer service, but few actually deliver anywhere near those lofty goals.’

I worry about that being the case with my business, but I’ve been working on ways to ensure a better customer service experience.  Who hasn’t walked away from a perfectly competent accountant or doctor because they (or their staff) were rude?  I don’t want that to be my business.  I want to be both polite and competent, and to exceed the expectations.  Wow, that sounds almost like a lofty “Mission Statement,” doesn’t it?  Looks like it’s time for some more experiments.  For the survival of my business, I need to deliver.

What are some of the qualities of your favorite companies?  What have you found successful in your own businesses?  As always, I’m looking forward to your responses.


Using Google Spreadsheets As An Alternative To Excel For Stock Prices And Information

Excel spreadsheets (.xls)

Today, I wanted to take some time to discuss something that many of you are perhaps not familiar with. I’m guessing that I’m not the only one who uses Excel to calculate the value of my portfolio and track my investments. There are many different ways to get this done.

#1-Excel – Most people that maintain their spreadsheets in excel tend to update the prices manually which can be fine if you have only a couple of stocks. There is an even better way which is to create a macro to capture stock prices from a site such as Yahoo finance as I discussed some time ago.

#2-Software such as Mint or Microsoft Money – In the past, I also used software where I could enter my stock trades and the value of my portfolio would be updated automatically. That tended to work very well.

#3-Google Spreadsheets– This is not as known but you can also use Google Spreadsheets. Those are very similar to Excel but they are “cloud based” and there are some built in functions that can be used which are very neat. You can see a screenshot of such a document here:

Basically, you use functions that are unique to Google Spreadsheets which rely on Google Finance, those make it possible to get stock prices but also other types of information such as a company’s financials, etc. Among other things, one attractive feature is that prices are updated on a live basis. I highly encourage you to see my sample spreadsheet here:

There are many different things that can be done and I might go into more details in the near future. I do however encourage you to take a look at their tutorials here.

I would love to hear if you’ve ever tried using Google finance functions in Google spreadsheets and if so, how that has gone.

Should You Downsize Your Home?

Personal finance

Are you living in a pretty big place right now? Do you find yourself with plenty of extra space? This could be a problem.

A few summers ago I was working construction with a friend. We were working on a small house on a street filled with big homes. After a few days I found out that the lady that was moving into the small home, was the owner of a much larger place down the street. I was wondering as to why this person would want to sell a large home and move into a tinier place? Who does that? Why would anyone downsize?

Then my first explained this financial experiment to me. There comes a point in a person’s life where they need to cut back and minimize their expenses. For this lady she had decided that the larger house wasn’t worth it anymore. She wanted something smaller. She wanted to try living in a smaller space. Why not?

When does it make sense to downsize your home?

When the bills get too high.

You could lose your job, the bills could naturally get higher, or you you might want to start saving more money. The point is that there’s going to come a time where the bills are too expensive and you want to find a way to stop spending so much of your income on your property. If you just don’t have the income to cover the bills, you need to move into something smaller.

When a few people leave your home.

If a kid moves out, someone goes away for college, or a relative gets their own place, you may want to consider downsizing and finding something smaller. The reason that you live in a larger place is likely due to the amount of people that lived with you. When someone moves on, it might be time to downsize your place.

When the work becomes too much.

Due to the health problems, time constraints, or less help around the home, the workload can get too hectic for you. This is perfectly common. How are you supposed to cut the grass or shovel the snow when you have back problems? How are you supposed to maintain a home with poor health?

When you want to retire.

My friend’s parents bought a condo out of town when they decided to retire. They were getting old, their kids had moved out, and it was time for them to cut back. They were happy to find a nice condo that didn’t require the same maintenance as their much larger home did.

You’ll know when it makes sense to downsize and find a more cozier home.

What are some of the main benefits of downsizing?

  • Save more money.
  • Less work around the home.
  • Less hassle.
  • Move to a more convenient location.

As you can see there are many reasons for downsizing your current place. Have you thought about trying this financial experiment? This won’t be for everyone. If it is a right fit, then you can find yourself saving tons of money and being much happier.

But I’m a Man—I Should be the Breadwinner!

Business & entrepreneurship, Career, Personal finance

I’m not trying to be controversial with this post.  I’m just trying to describe my own feelings.  These are my feelings and not those of the owner of this site or anyone else, for that matter.  With that disclaimer in mind, here goes:

As I’ve written about many times on this site, I recently started my own business.  In many ways, it has been rewarding.  In other ways it’s been difficult.  One of the toughest things for me to deal with is not being able to contribute to the financial resources of my family like I used to.  Before I started my own business, I was an equal partner (financially) in the marriage.  I may have even been (by a slight margin) the breadwinner.  I know it sounds old fashioned, but I’ve always wanted to be the breadwinner.  Now don’t get me wrong, I want my Wife to earn a ton of money.  But I want to feel that I’m playing my part too.  It’s disheartening to me that my Wife is under so much financial pressure because I started my own business.  It doesn’t help that I’m always working on my business, so I’m not around a lot either.

My Wife has never made me feel bad about not being able to contribute to the family’s finances much (and in the beginning of my business, not at all).  She has been more supportive than I have any right to deserve.  But again, there is this (perhaps) old fashioned feeling inside me that says things like: “you’re not a man, you’re a freeloader living off the hard work and health insurance of your Wife.”

I know we’re in the twenty-first century, but it still pains me to not be able to be an equal partner in terms of paying our mortgage, student loans, etc.  I hope that doesn’t make me sexist in any way, but it is how I feel.  I know if things were reversed she’d feel a similar pressure,  as our house requires two salaries to run.  We have six figure student loan debt.  We pay $2,500 each month for our mortgage.  We are struggling.

Sometimes that pressure is compounded by the uncertainty of operating a new business.  You never know if the business is ultimately going to succeed.  You like to think, “well I can put up with some lean times because it’s going to all pay off in the end.” But there is no guarantee that it will.  None at all.  The business might never generate a decent living.  I might have to give it up and go back to working for someone else, having only wasted my time and lost out on months (or even years) of a steady salary and benefits package.

Those inner fears sometimes make me take on clients that I shouldn’t.  They sometimes make me take on difficult clients or clients who can only pay (1/2) up front.  (And I know I’ll never see the second half).

I’ve tried to pick up more freelance writing income to supplement my income and help pay some bills.  That’s been a big help. Before, my freelance writing income would pay for a fancy vacation each year.  Now it pays for groceries.  I’m grateful for it.

But I can’t help but feel bad for my Wife.  I want her to have everything she deserves, and right now I can barely provide her with anything.  Just my big old stupid self.

Have you ever experienced such a situation?  Am I a total sexist jerk?  Please tell me I’m not, because I swear it’s all well-intentioned.

I look forward as always to reading your responses.