Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Make a Game of Saving Money

Saving money can feel like a drag sometimes.  It's boring, requires time, and also requires the ever-dreaded budget.  But what if you could turn saving money into something fun?  What if you could turn it into a game?

Try these three methods and see if your savings rate doesn't go up dramatically.

1. The Competition

Have a major savings goal for your family?  Turn it into a competition.  Divide your savings goal into an appropriate target number for each person's income.  If you have children, set the number appropriate to their allowance or whatever income they have.  If you are competing only with your spouse, you can either divide the goal in half or set it according to the percentage of income that each partner brings in.

If your family is anything like mine, the glory of being able to say, "First!" will be all the motivation you need.

Another twist to The Competition is to compete with a friend.  If you're single, and don't have anyone you're contributing to common goals with, find a friend that also has something they're saving for.  Set your goals, and then race to see who can get to 25% first, 50% first, and so forth.  This will work best if the amount of money you're both individually saving is relatively similar.

2.  Treasure Hunt

Another game you can use to save money is to watch the cash that flows through your hands.  Save bills and coins that meet certain, common criteria.  For example, you could save all coins that were minted in the 1990's, or save paper money that has a specific letter or number within the serial code.  Just don't make your criteria too obscure.  If you're only saving coins from the 1930s, odds are you won't ever reach your savings goal. This method turns savings into a treasure hunt, and if done right, can add up quickly!

3.  The Thermometer

We've all seen fundraisers and organizations  use thermometers to measure their progress towards a certain goal.  Use this method in your own house!  You could even incentivize it by having a family reward once you've reached your goal.  The reward could be something smaller like dinner at your favorite restaurant, or something big like a vacation.  If you do decide to incentivize, make sure that you add the cost of the reward to the total savings goal. That way, there's no worries about the money being there.

Saving can be fun and motivating.  Often the hardest part is getting started.  By turning it into something fun like a game, we can take that first step with a lot more enthusiasm.

Have you ever turned your savings efforts into a game?  I'd love to hear the methods you've used in the comments!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Next Generation Latte Factor


The other day I was at the mall.  We weren't even buying anything.  They have a great, free indoor playground that I sometimes take the kids to on cold, winter days.
On our way in, we were walking in front of some teenage girls in the food court.  I generally try to tune out the conversations of teenage girls, but this one was interesting.
"I want to go to Starbucks so bad."
"Then go to Starbucks!"
"I can't."
"Why not?"
"Don't  you know?  If you buy lattes, you'll go broke."
At this, her friend stopped to think.
"Well, I'll just buy us a Starbucks.  That way you can have lattes whenever you want.  And we'll make money."
At this point we parted ways.  Putting aside the fact that Girl 1's understanding of the latte factor was remedial at best, Girl 2's solution intrigued me.  There were so many factors that went into those two sentences, even if they weren't meant pragmatically. 
I'll just buy us a Starbucks.
This thought would have never come into my own head.  Because "just buying" a franchised storefront sounds crazy intimidating to me.  Maybe her parents "just buy" her anything.  Maybe major purchases and partnerships like this seem like a simple process from her vantage point, void of risk or initial hurdles because she sees the adults in her life that have money, and can therefore use it to make more money.
Or maybe, just maybe, she was a teenage girl trying to cheer her friend up with a "dream" hypothetical.
Then you can have lattes whenever you want.
Owning a business does have some perks.  Like free coffee if you're running a Starbucks.  But dip into your inventory too much, and you'll start to see a dip in your profit margins.  Because inventory isn't free, and every cup of coffee you're drinking is a cup of coffee you could have earned profit on.
I'm assuming she was planning on getting her friend hopped up on so much caffeine that she'd be bouncing off the walls day and night.  Which I'm sure was not the point.
But dipping into inventory for a latte daily is essentially the same thing as buying a latte everyday.  It's the "small," repeated luxuries we grant ourselves that add up to destroy our budgets and potential savings accounts, whether we're running our family's finances or a business's accounting spreadsheets.
And we'll make money.
While repeatedly dipping into your inventory will slow your profit margin, odds are you will still have profits.  And that's why I'm impressed with Girl 2.
She saw two problems:  no coffee, and no money.  And then she found a creative solution that solved both at the same time.  Not only that, but she did it with a (pseudo) entrepreneurial spirit.  
It turns out Starbucks isn't franchised.  I'm sure owners of the branch receive some portion of the profits, but unless Girl 2 had some very specific real estate opportunities lying around, odds are she wasn't just going to buy a store.
But her attitude makes me hopeful for the generation that immediately follows me.  There are problem solving skills.  There's an entrepreneurial spirit.  And her interests ensure that there will be a free place for me to work and access Wi-Fi in the future.  Maybe I'll ask for a free latte when I stop in.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Avoiding the Santa Bill

When you're a child, the magic of Christmas is all-encompassing.  Sugar plum fairies, lights, cookies, kindness, and, of course, the grand anticipation of all those presents under the tree.

As parents, there's a lot of pressure to make sure this is the best Christmas ever.  And that pressure's on every year.  While you want to create memories for you child, sometimes doing so can put your financial stability  in peril.

The Santa Bill

When my husband was a child, his Christmases were just as magical as anyone else's.  Toys overflowed under the tree, and Santa was always generous.

And then January would roll around.  Anytime he or his siblings asked to do anything during the months following the holidays, his parents would always say no, however minute the request.  "We're still paying the Santa bill.  Do you think he delivers all those presents for free?"

Of course, as a child, you do.  And you can say whatever you want about ruining the magic after the fact, but my in-laws aren't the only ones who ever financed Christmas and then struggled in the post-holiday months.

Santa Doesn't Want You to Go Into Debt

The desire to create that Christmas magic isn't unique, but there are ways to create it without going into debt to put all those presents under the tree.

1.  Give Your Kids Options

Starting young, let your child know that Santa can do one of two things:  he can bring one big thing or he can bring many small presents.  This allows your child to weigh their options, and empowers them with the decision.  Whether they know it or not, they're learning something about responsible financial choices in the process:  there are only so many resources (presents,) and you can use those resources for one huge thing or a bunch of smaller items.  In this case, neither choice is wrong, but it lets your child know what to expect on the big day while still building that anticipation.  Starting this practice young prevents the disappointment of any established precedent.

2.  Create Traditions

While a lot of the magic of Christmas as a small child is the anticipation of a magical man leaving presents under the tree, there's still a lot more magic created by family and community traditions.  Going to see light displays, watching Carols by Candlelight, sharing some carols of your own with the neighborhood, going to holiday parties, or even just sitting down for a big holiday family meal are all ways to create these memories.  Your family may even have some of your own, unique traditions.  Play these up, and the anticipation every December won't just be about the gifts, but about the time you spend together.

3.  Help Your Child Become Santa

With older children, try to encourage them to become a Santa in their own right.  Many organizations have lists of children or families that are in need, along with their wishlist for Christmas.  Encourage your child to participate in these opportunities by donating the money that would be spent on one of their gifts to someone else, or encourage them to use their own money to do so.  Really go through the process with them, explaining how lucky they are to be able to have any presents under the tree at all, and that what they're doing is going to be so deeply appreciated by those they are giving to.

On Christmas morning, rather than being disappointed that there aren't tens of boxes under the tree with their name one them, they're more likely to be grateful for what they do receive, having a better perspective on this consumerism-driven holiday.  Perhaps they'll even think about the family opening their present that same morning, and be able to experience the joy that comes along with giving through "sacrifice."

  Have you ever had a Santa bill?  What are you doing this year to prevent it?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Would you like a bonus $5,000 for your business? #ShopSmallAU #AmexAU

Business grants are a great way to get funding for those much needed business makeovers, especially when starting out or looking to expand. American Express want to help small businesses and are offering 120 $5000 grants to small business owners. That equates to $600,000 toward supporting our small business communities. How good is that?

It’s been going for a few months and the way it works is each month 20 small businesses are awarded $5,000. To be eligible the business must welcome American Express warmly (not surcharge differentially or charge extra fees for using them). Each transaction through your business is an entry in the draw for one of the grants.

Not only that, but they are encouraging Card Members to Shop Small too, with a special deal for them. Check that out here.

What could you do with $5,000?
$5,000 can go a long way for your small business with things like marketing, boosting posts on Facebook, maybe running a competition yourself to drive traffic and sales, purchase some new equipment or stock.

Or it could be used to pay some staff so you can take a holiday!

You can read more about it here or check out the video below

I know what I would use $5,000 for in my business, but I want to hear what you would use it for, how would you make that $5,000 really have an impact on your business?

*Ends November 30th, 2014, so be quick!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How I Realized I Had Realized My Dreams Without Even Realizing It

When I started at University at the tender age of 18, I was a determined kid.  I had gotten into a school my guidance counselor had told me would be "shooting too high," and had decided I was going to become a marketing executive.  I was on the path to make big bucks doing something I thought I'd love.  (To that point, I had no practical experience in marketing, but it sounded like a good plan to me.)

Then, something devastating happened.  Part way through school, I got slapped in the face with tuition costs, a family who made too much money for me to qualify for a cent of financial aid, but a family that was simultaneously incapable of helping me pay for school.  This was not part of the plan.  I did the only thing I could do:  I withdrew.

I felt like a failure.  I was a college drop out.  I wouldn't have a big career with big money or a big house.  I didn't know what I'd have.  At that point, I had nothing.

I always say that in retrospect, it was an amazing thing.  I reevaluated what I could afford to study, and discovered a field I loved in languages.  I wake up every morning looking forward to going to work, even on the days when I know my job will be a challenge.  I absolutely love doing what I do. 

But there's still an tinge of resentment that I couldn't pursue the education I was brought up to think was normal and a given.

While I was still in school as a non-traditional student, our family hit a little bit of a rough patch as I took some time off work to finish my degree and take care of my children.  I was hustling to find creative ways to save and earn.  When I discovered those avenues of revenue, I'd get excited and want to tell everyone about them.  No one in my personal life cared.  But I had to share them with someone, thus a blog was born.

I've been at it for three years, but wasn't until a couple of months ago that something hit me.  I was writing an advertorial post for a service I loved.  I was tweeting it.  I was pinning it.  I got it up on Google+.  Other people viewed it.  Other people shared it.  That's when I realized:  I'm in marketing

Sure, I don't have that expensive degree.  I don't make a six-digit income from blog advertising.  But I've built a platform to reach people that others want to utilize. It's not that big of deal; other bloggers do it everyday, and many have done it much faster than I.  But for me, what started as an outlet and a way to help others morphed into the achievement of a dream I had long ago abandoned.

Our passions have a funny way of creeping up throughout our lives.  Our lives have a funny way of giving us what we desire.  Though the path may wind and twist and layer over with fog, there are moments of beautiful serendipity along the way.  If there's a dream you've abandoned, do not mourn it.  If there's some resentment you're holding onto, let it go.  You may still get that thing you want out of life.  It just may come in an unexpected form a little bit further down the road.