Category Archive 'Tips for saving money'

Paying for Your Self-Improvement

Career, Personal finance, Tips for saving money

It seems like working towards self-improvement is one of the most expensive things people spend money on–and yet people rarely if ever talk about how costly paying for self-improvement can be.  The gurus are silent–perhaps because they’re in the self-improvement business.

Almost anything we classify as “improving ourselves” can come with a price–and sometimes a hefty one.  What do you classify as self-improvement that’s really an excuse to overspend?  Or in the case of an internship, to under-earn?

When you’re keeping up with the latest fashions, is that a form of self-improvement or is it a matter of simply being wasteful with your money?  “It depends on the requirements of your job,” I can almost hear you all saying.  Fine, but what about college educations?  College is supposed to be the ultimate form of self-improvement, but how often do we overpay for a college’s “name” that won’t likely lead to a better career.

I haven’t detected much of a difference in the career success of a graduate from an average private school v. a graduate from an average public school–other than the amount of debt they often each carry.

This post will go over some of the basic “improvement” expenses and how to minimize their cost.  Because no matter how great your improvement, you’re still not going to get anywhere with an empty wallet.

Self-Improvement Education (Non-College).

I’ve paid thousands of dollars for books, e-books, and even some online “courses.”  I’ve learned how to be minimalistic, optimistic, and how to invest in penny stocks.  I’ve learned time management and been coached in obtaining web traffic for my sites.  Ok—I haven’t really done all of these things (yet), but you get the point.  A lot of the stuff we pay for can be found for free on websites such as this one or in free e-books like Dividend Guy’s new e-book on dividend investing.

A formal education is expensive enough, let alone paying for many of these educational tools.  But here’s the caveat–a great e-book, book, or course can ultimately really lead to self-improvement.  If that’s the case, then it’s worth the investment.  Just be sure to do your homework and to try and hone in on one area of improvement at a time so you get the most out of the resource outlay.  Of course your homework should also point you to the high quality self-improvement books rather than the scams.  Remember, if it’s too good to be true or they are promising too much, generally SKIP IT.


Ok, I’ll be honest, I may am not be qualified to even talk about fashion…but I’m going to anyway.  Who hasn’t justified a new shirt or hairstyle by thinking that it will “make me more presentable at work” or “make me feel more confident.”  To some extent that is true, but there is certainly a cost-effective way to go about it.  This is easy–search for sales, and don’t get caught up in “names.”  More importantly, don’t throw out your clothes because they “go out of style” or “no longer fit.”  Fashion is in flux–just like your weight likely will be, for the majority of people, myself included.  Speaking of which–


I once lost a tremendous amount of weight.  Again, I used free websites for any info I needed or to track my calories.  I didn’t read or implement any fad diet plans and I didn’t consult with any experts or join any groups.  I simply ate less and exercised more.  I also found that you can keep in shape without an expensive gym–but it’s a lot tougher.  Sometimes it’s worth spending that extra money to improve yourself or obtain your goals.


I already addressed this above, but the trick is to focus on the value of your education.  In other words, to focus on the expected Rate of return (ROI) for your college experience.  What is the average starting salary?  What are your odds of graduating in four years?  What types of scholarships or grants can you apply or qualify for?  And once you’re there, the key is to target college as a great opportunity for personal growth rather than a chance to party or avoid work for four (plus) years.


I always fall into this trap.  In my day job I will always be going to “so and so’s retirement dinner,” or “this or thats trade convention.”  I am a member of the local chamber of commerce.  I am constantly attending association events or going out for a few drinks with colleagues.  It’s both tiring and expensive–and sometimes (often, actually) I never get a client from my attempts. At the same time, you’re only as good as your ability to obtain your next job, so perhaps it is oftentimes worth the investment.

If you can, have your employer pay for these types of things.


I believe in life-long learning.  I always want to strive to be more productive and improved in different ways that I value.  At the same time, I don’t want to pay for my improvement–at least not more than I am receiving.  If you can keep your costs down, then you can work on yourself without paying for it.

Just think of this as another way for you to start improving yourself…and who doesn’t like another self-improvement project?

What have you done to mitigate the sometimes expensive self-improvement costs?  What “self-improvement” rationalizations do you make?


The $100.00 “Swing”

Personal finance, Tips for saving money

Want the extra money to buy a new car every few years?  How about extra money to go on a nice vacation each year?  Could an extra $5,000 each year come in handy for you?  Of course.  But how hard is it to make that a reality?  Actually, not very hard at all.  You just need to find a way to create a weekly $100.00 “swing.”

Step 1: List 5 Daily Habits You Could Break, and Their Attendant Costs

Too often, personal finance sites talk about abstract ideas.  “If you could save an extra $100.00 each week you could retire by Age 55.”  I want you to take action. Specifically, first I want you to sit down right now and come up with a list of 5 daily or weekly habits you could break.   Next to the habit, approximate the average weekly cost.  The list could look something like this:

1) coffee in the mornings on the way to work: $25.00.

2) Smoking: $50.00

3) Eating out for lunch: $35.00.

4) Expensive Hobby:  $30.00.

5) Buying books I could be borrowing from the library.  $15.00.

Step 2: List 5 Extra Ways You Could Realistically Make Extra Money Each Week, and The Expected Income Gain.

This list could look something like:

1) Move money from checking to savings: $10.00.

2) Babysit: $35.00.

3) Blog: $20.00.

4) Clean an office once a week: $75.00.

5) Odd Jobs/selling scrap metal: $40.00.

Step 3: Choose Any Combination of Savings/Increased Earnings to Reach $100.00 Per Week.

So, using my example list, I could decide to move money to savings from checking ($10.00), quit smoking ($50.00), and take on odd jobs each week ($40.00).  Then, each week I would have to make sure I was paying myself via savings rather than allowing lifestyle creep to set in.

If I did that each week for the next year I should have approximately an extra $5,200 (although taxes might reduce this amount).

Why did I walk you through this?  Because it really is that easy.  Now if you’re not ready to quit smoking, then I’m not trying to undersell how difficult that step might be for you.  And I know firsthand how tough it is to quit, being an ex-smoker myself.  But that’s the beauty of the $100.00 swing: you can earn/reduce expenses any way you would like to get to $100.00 per week.

You might be wondering, why $100.00?

I chose $100.00 because it is a substantial savings but also quite realistic.  Almost anybody could find a way to earn/reduce expenses $100.00 per week, if they really put their mind to it.

Motivation and the $100.00 “Swing”

Often we start out strong when we decide to earn more/spend less, but with time begin to lose motivation.  I have found greater success when I keep a daily/weekly log.  Every week I log how much extra money I make on the side.  Not only does this help come tax season, but it also helps with keeping me fixed on my goal.

I’ll be going to Europe on vacation in a few weeks thanks to my “swing.”  I call this extra money my “mad money.”  — which of course is an old saying which means, spend it how you please.

There may be times when you need to tap into this money due to an emergency.  That will hurt, but it’s still a better feeling than being short the money and increasing your debt load.  If you can though, think of a motivating goal and stick to it.  There are more intelligent ways I could spend my “mad money”, but perhaps I wouldn’t be saving as hard if that were the case.  You might be more motivated than me.  For me this extra money allows me to do the types of things I really love doing.

Another way to motivate yourself is a fore each $1.00 of fun, you put aside another $1.00 towards paying down debt/saving for retirement or any other goals that you have.


With time, you may find that it is easier to create the $100.00 swing each week.  You might even decide to get ambitious and go for a $125.00 or $150.00 swing.  It’s like exercising, the more tolerance you build up, the easier it is to enact real change in your finances, and in your life.

Best of luck to you as you set out to create a $100.00 “swing” in your own life.

What are your tips/suggestions for freeing up/creating an extra $100.00 each week?

It’s just not worth clipping coupons anymore

Personal finance, Tips for saving money

Clipping coupons used to be something anyone who claimed they were frugal did on a regular basis. I admit I haven’t done this in a while, but I happened to look through our Sunday newspaper last week and was amazed to see how poorly coupons had kept up with inflation (and that’s an understatement).

When I was a kid (in the 80s), I remember clipping coupons pretty regularly. $0.75-1 off a favorite box of cereal, helping my mom find ones that were useful to us. I always kept my eye out for those when it was time to buy new clothes. It was actually a fun thing to do: the hunt as well as trying to see how much money we could save.

Fast forward to 2010, and I was shocked at how little you save on coupons these days. I took pictures of a few from our Sunday paper, and these were quite typical. Instead of $1 off a box of cereal, the deal now is:

Really? $1.50 off two boxes of cereal + a gallon of milk. Around here (Bay Area, admittedly), brand-named cereal is about $5 a box plus $4 for a gallon of milk.

Or how about coupons for toilet paper or paper towels?

Wow — and I just discovered that people sell these coupons on eBay. Huh. Is there actually a market for this stuff?

I’m starting to see why online stores like or their new sister store actually might work and be popular — sell consumer staples with a slight discount, with free shipping after meeting a threshold amount, and deliver quickly. Better than clipping coupons and going to the store, it seems.

How to reduce your Comcast bill

Tips for saving money

Yesterday, a rep from a local cable competitor called dropped by our house and explained how we could get the same cable and internet service we got from Comcast for half price if we switched providers.

It was a pretty compelling argument — $29.95 for standard cable (plus they threw in Starz and Encore, even though they’re channels we don’t care about) and $22.95 for internet for 12 months, with no contract. With Comcast, we’d been paying $59.95 for standard cable and $42.95 for internet.

I looked at the , and they were positive overall, although some people complained that their internet speeds were more comparable to DSL than cable (we’re on the 12Mbps package).

However, since we’d been happy with Comcast, I figured it was worth calling them up to see if I could get better pricing. After selecting the “downgrade or discontinue your service” option on the telephone menu, I explained to the rep that we’d been happy with their service but that Astound was offering the same services at half the price, which we had to consider. I asked if there was anything they could to to price match or decrease my monthly bill.
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Holy cow: musical scores of Mozart’s complete works now available for free online!

Current events, Tips for saving money

To commemorate the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, the has created an online database of 24,000 of his works (in sheet music form), all available for download, for free. Obviously, it’s for personal use only, etc. and all the standard legalese applies.

The site and database, called the , is searchable in German and English, by KV, type of work, key of music, and editor. Here’s an .

Seriously, don’t you love it when the Internet facilitates sort of thing? The site’s been experiencing unbelievable traffic, so if you can’t connect immediately, try a bit later. I wasn’t able to access their servers at all until this afternoon. But, once I did, it took me no time at all to find the — a.k.a. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star/The Alphabet Song, for example. Pretty simple search interface, and quick results. The sheet music is in JPEG format, so you have to save the images first before printing them (at least as far as I can tell). But it’s really a small inconvenience to pay given the incredible access they’re offering!