Monday, November 30, 2009

Winterizing the Home

Well, the Thanksgiving Holiday has come and gone and now we're on the downhill slope to the Christmas Holiday. With that, we have colder weather as well, and it's already starting to show it's ugly face. Surprisingly, we've had pretty mild weather so far this fall and approaching winter. It's been pretty common to see it hit 50 degrees every day or every other day. For that, I'm not complaining. That does bring me to my next topic: Winterizing and cutting heating costs.

We bit the bullet last year and got new windows for our house (we didn't really bite the bullet too bad as they were a Christmas present) and that has really cut down on our overall heating bill. That, combined with monitoring the thermostat more regularly and turning it down when we're not at home, etc. I would suggest that to anyone that doesn't do that now, as it saves you quite a bit of money that you wouldn't imagine. Another good way to save on your gas bill is to turn your water heater down to 140 degrees as that is more than sufficient for heating your water for your personal needs. That will save a good chunk of change as well. So, what if you can't do new windows or need alternative options.

There are other options for winterizing and saving money, even if you have an old house with leaky windows. Start by going up in your attic and checking out the insulation that is present. If there is minimal insulation or it's less than 6 inches thick, you may want to consider getting more and lining the attic with it. This will save the most money and keep you the warmest in the winter as heat rises and without adequate insulation, your losing a lot of heat. Another great way to keep from losing heat in your home is to buy plastic window insulation that will provide an airtight seal against the drafts that might plague old windows. 3M makes a good product that I have used in the past and it does work quite effectively.

There is always the tried and true method of using more clothing in your home and just turning down your thermostat too. Wearing slippers and sweaters around the house will save you some pennies too, but can get old pretty quickly.

If you have a wood burning fireplace in your home, this would be an additional way that you can create heat without using the furnace. We do this in the winter with our fireplace and have to secure wood before the cold sets in to do so. This isn't so hard being in the Midwest though. Right now, there seems to be an abundance of firewood suppliers trying to earn extra money or doing it as a living with the job market being as thin as it is.

Lastly, check around the seals and the trim on your windows and you can caulk any areas that need to be airtight. Make sure you don't caulk the area that will need to move when opening and shutting the window though, unless you want it shut for good (or until you cut it open with a utility knife anyway). This is a really great way to cut down on drafts from the windows and can save lots of money as well. Check the doorways also and see if they are in need of caulking.

Good luck and I hope that this winter will find you safe and sound.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Oh Black Friday...

I hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving and is having a nice, relaxing weekend spent with family and friends. The holidays are always an interesting time and this "Black Friday" was no different. I chose to be less than wise and go to Guitar Center yesterday on "Black Friday" and found quite crowd of teenage boys playing all sorts of metal and hard rock tunes on guitars in the store at just below ear blasting levels. Now, this by itself wouldn't be so bad, but then throw in the same number of kids trying out drum kits, running around the store with their parental counterparts, and then trying to check out. What that leads to is irritation of many levels. I managed to stay calm and collected without freaking out, but that was not the case with other shoppers. Some left after waiting in line for 15 minutes because they just needed small items.

Evelyn is an enthusiast about "Black Friday" and all of it's shopping grandeur. She's become quite the frugal queen and finding the best bargains has been the challenge for her shopping adventures. This includes grocery shopping with coupons, as well as using fliers to find the best %50 off deals possible. The other perspective on this is that she probably wouldn't have bought some of things she bought because she wouldn't have been in the store to be lured in to other "bargains." We try to stay focused on what we go to the store for, but we all know that sometimes the lure of other sales or specials are too tempting to pass up. This is the result of constant exposure to marketing that we are all bombarded with and the spending is the after effect.

Now, when it comes to Christmas (and we're really only buying for close family and a charity family that we "adopted"), we don't mind being generous and getting people more than they expect, but we really try to keep the spending reigned in so we don't have holiday spending regrets. Evelyn and I are not the typical consumerists, but we do like to treat ourselves and others well with gift giving.

Is "Black Friday" worth the effort? This is a very subjective question, of course, but do you feel that it's worth it to spend the effort to wake up early, go shopping for bargains, and fight the mass onslaught of the holiday crowds? I don't. I would rather pay $5 more on a gift that spend my time that way. That's my priority. Yours may differ and I accept that whole heartily. Regardless, we all need to keep in mind that we're all out for the same purpose.

I hope your shopping experience this year, whatever it may be, is not a stressful one. Good luck! Just a reminder, there's always the online shopping option. :-)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Some Thoughts on Giving Thanks

Another Holiday year is here again, and just the same as last year, the madness and hustle and bustle of it all is making it fly by pretty quickly. Already we've got Thanksgiving knocking at our door and Christmas is right around the corner. I truly don't know where the year went.

With that said, I do have a few things that I'm very thankful for. My health has been mostly good this (very good relative to many) and for that I'm thankful. I have a wonderful girlfriend that loves me unconditionally, and I'm grateful. I have an awesome and inspiring family for which I am thankful. I'm been blessed enough to still have a great job and a wonderful home, with plenty to eat, and a warm bed in which to sleep. For all those things I am very thankful. Since I've begun this blog, I've made it my priority to see the lighter side and the simpler path in life. In doing so, it makes me really put a microscope to my own behaviors and actions, as well as the components of my life. This has given me all the more reflection time, resulting in more appreciation for the gifts and blessings that I do have.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am really excited about giving thanks tomorrow for the celebration of our ancestors making the trek from Europe to Plymouth Rock. Whether it means gorging myself on pumpkin pie and turkey, or just appreciating good conversation with my family members, I will be in the spirit of giving thanks. I know that not everyone has the blessings that I have and I must not take any of it for granted. As we all say, "life is short" and "this too shall pass." I don't want things to change, but life happens and things do change. All the more reason to enjoy what we have now. In the here and now.

Please enjoy what you have and count your blessings this Thanksgiving. By all means, have a wonderful one!


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Very Affordable Housing

I always thought that Indiana was a pretty cost effective place to live and work, but I just needed some real numbers and data to back me up. I found that backing when I read this article and found out that Indianapolis, IN is the most affordable city in the country to live in right now, with a median home price of $107,000.

What's also pretty amazing is that the median income is $68,100. That's pretty high considering the low prices in the housing market. Our dollar goes a lot farther here and on the flip side, homes don't appreciate quite as aggressively as in other areas. The positive to that argument is that we don't have the bubble bursts in real estate to the extent that California, Florida, and other major areas experienced. The benefits that I experience here in Indianapolis are in my business of owning and managing real estate. With low home prices, I am able to create more residual income as the mortgage payments are less as a consequence of a lower purchase price. This goes hand in hand with the fact that I can apply extra money to principal as well and pay off the houses quicker. It's a win/win all around.

On the other end of the spectrum, not all surprising, is the least affordable place to live. New York City. As seen here, the median home price is $425,000, while the median income is $64,800. That is a huge differential between home price and income! No wonder so many people rent in the Big Apple.

The interesting part of this article that isn't mentioned is the fact that when you go outside of these cities, prices tend to be even lower (with the exception of high end suburbs, which can be higher on average). When you look at housing costs in rural areas, especially in Indiana, you see even lower housing costs than in the major cities. You also see slightly lower median incomes, but that's not always the case.

The trade offs. You know there are always trade offs. Of course, we have the Indianapolis Colts, the Indianapolis Pacers, The Indianapolis Indians (minor league baseball team for the Pittsburgh Pirates), The Indianapolis 500 race, Wes Montgomery came from Indianapolis, Dave Letterman went to Ball State, Don Mattingly grew up in Evansville, Indiana, and many other notable events, sports, and people. But, Indiana is cold and located in the Midwest, where there aren't movie actors, we don't have an ocean or beaches, no mountains, lots of corn fields, and very little in the way of entertainment industry. Those are the trade offs.

So then the question becomes "What's it worth for you to live where you live?" If you love the location, weather, features, people, network, job, etc. that you have and live in, then no price tag can be placed on that (within reason of course). Happiness is paramount and affordable housing can be found nearly any place.

Have a great week everyone!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pareto's Principle

How is it that the most productive and efficient 20% of the population creates 80% of the wealth and prosperity (in philosophy of course)? The Pareto Principal attempts to explain this phenomenon and can be applied to many other aspects of life and work. I tend to apply it in my career by keeping my focus on my 20% most loyal customers that refer 80% of the business to me. This philosophy can be applied to many aspects of our lives though, but it's not something that should be thought of as an exact science (of course), but more a concept and direction for applying our energy and focus. If you think about your most loyal friends that encompass the most enriching aspects of your life, you might be able to apply this rule.

Why am I bringing this up? I am constantly striving to improve my efficiency in life and work, along with that finite balance in living. If I apply my energy to the most effective parts of my life, most effective friends, most effective partners (business and relationship), and most effective experience, I get more out of life in general. What I mean by the word effective: most enriching, rewarding, caring, and abundant. To find the 20% (of whatever it is you need) that are the most effective, makes you 80% more effective and abundant (in life, love, and happiness, at least that's the goal). I know this seems like seriously over thinking life, it's really not. It's simply learning how to put life on auto pilot and learning to use your energy in the most effective way. This leads to more mental and physical energy for the things that matter to you.

Things that matter to me are spending time with family and friends, being able to travel the world, playing music, helping others, experiencing new food and culture, and staying fit and healthy. The more efficient I am in choosing how I spend my time in my career and personal life, the more time and energy I have for these things that matter. How do you spend your time and energy? Do you find that you are constantly fine tuning your approaches to all aspects of your life? What in your life is worth putting more time towards? How can you find more time for that?

Check out the Pareto Principle and see if it can help you focus on the things that really matter in your life. Good luck!


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Set Backs in Life

We all will run in to challenges in life that will test our will and our patience. Why is it that the challenges in life can create the most upheaval in our moods and routines? Change seems to be hard for us as humans to grasp a hold of unless we are accustomed and used to change on a regular basis. But, as we all know, challenge and adversity give way to strength and life lessons.

How is that some people are just more adaptable to change and are more patient with the tough stuff in life? I think we can all agree that living our lives in certain ways can add to or take away from our energy, outlook, and overall way of dealing with adversity. We can choose to approach things in a positive light or a negative light. It's our choice. I'm constantly trying to learn from others that are so adaptable to change and so flexible with challenges. I really strive to remain positive through adversity, and also keep in mind that I've never experience REAL adversity the way some have. I've been pretty fortunate and lucky in my life.

What do you find throws you off your game? How do you deal with the big challenges in life?
What do you consider a big setback? This differs with all of us as well.

Life is sometimes like a marathon. We have to keep our heads in a happy place to make it through the long haul. What I like to keep in mind is that there are always different approaches to the mundane and the common adversity in life. Why not take the road less travelled and even the higher road? We all know that's better for our mental and physical health anyway.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

What is it about desperation that forces us to reinvent ourselves and ultimately follow our muse?At other times we do things that just allow us to skate by, but when we have nothing, we have nothing to lose, right?

Throughout the economic downturn that our country has been experiencing, I've been reading countless stories about people that have reinvented themselves after being laid off or downsized from their previously stable jobs. They are now working for themselves and doing what they love. One blogger that I read occasionally has recently gone through this and you can read his story here as he's finding ways to reinvent himself, creating new sources with which to support himself. Others that I read about are doing freelance work in fields that they always wanted to. Viable fields are photography, graphic design, web design, consulting, writing, and editing, along with many other ways that you can work physically in your area to keep yourself afloat.

For another example, a friend of mine here in Indianapolis has begun a business doing painting and power washing for large apartment complexes and is doing quite well for himself. He will switch to plowing snow in the winter, which usually picks up in January, February, and March here in Indiana. He has chose to do this as his career in the business world became very disappointing for him and unreliable. If you're miserable in your job, I think this is the way to go. Why not take the leap of faith and work for yourself? If you have the self discipline and the tenacity to do it, I think there is no better way to employ yourself than being your own boss.

This topic is something that I've been researching pretty extensively over the last year as I'm trying to create other businesses that will take over my current day job. I do enjoy my current day job and it's as close to self employment as I can get (with outside sales and a very laid back manager that doesn't micro manage), and I also have my business with real estate rentals as well. However, my ultimate goal is to create a successful online business that can and will support me from any location.

If you have ideas or suggestions with regard to this topic, please email or comment to let me know. I am eager to get the wisdom from others that are doing this currently.

Have a great week everyone!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Financing From the Old School

There used to be a time when people bought Christmas presents with cash and saved all year to do so. There wasn't an abundance of store credit cards that offered 0% financing for 12 months and there weren't credit card offers being sent to 90% of the homes in America. If you talk to the older generation of Americans (depression era folks), they didn't use and probably most haven't used credit cards much in their lives.

There is and has always been an alternate option that many stores still employ as a technique to sell their wares. Layaway. Kmart is king for the layaway and I'm sure you've all seen the Christmas commercials that highlight their layaway program since the credit card companies have tightened up their card requirements and approval processes (no financial interest of course). The important part to remember though is that layaway is interest free and allows for a purchaser to buy something over minimized payments without paying financing fees and crazy interest rates that credit card companies charge. It really is a fiscally smart alternative for the holidays.

Sears also has a pretty reasonable layaway program as well, along with some Best Buy stores, Burlington Coat Factory, TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and some local stores that you may not even expect to offer layaway. A music instrument and supply store that offers layaway is Sam Ash in case your doing some shopping for a musician in your family.

So, if you don't want to pay cash for your Christmas presents, use layaway. In case you haven't caught on to my contempt for credit cards, now you know. The more I can steer people away from their evil ways, the better I'll feel.

Good luck with your holiday shopping!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Of Utmost Importance: Health

We've all heard the phrase, "If you don't have your health, you don't have anything" and I think we would all agree with this statement. If we're not in good health, every effort and every task seems like a great one.

Every time I get sick, I really appreciate this bit of truth a bit more (and my flu bug, or whatever cold is really nothing big picture). But some times, someone comes across my path that really hits home to me and makes me really appreciate the health that I have on the grand scheme of things. I don't have a life threatening illness, I don't have a disability, I don't have a physical impairment, and I'm a socially adept person with a lucky job, life, and group of friends/family. What I'm getting at is that I have my health.

I ran in to a guy through work that really made me think about this and made me realize that the big man upstairs put him in my path for a reason. This guy has had trouble with his health for the last 5 + years, lost his job, is losing his home to foreclosure, lost his mother to death a year ago, and just struggles in general. He has friends and some family left, but I can see the struggle in his face.

These types of situational encounters make me realize my fortune in life and the great cards that I really have been dealt. It makes me stop and take inventory of the things I'm lucky to have. With the holidays coming up, in particular Thanksgiving, we all begin to reflect back on what's awesome in our lives and what we're grateful for. I'm grateful for the people and opportunities that I have had in my life. I'm really am truly blessed and I feel I've been given extraordinary circumstances for the good.

Do you feel like when the timing is right, people come across your path to teach you a lesson? Are you grateful for your health? Lets all help each other remember how lucky we are to be here for this short time on this big, blue planet.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Is Blogging Really Work?

Well, some people seem to think so and I happen to agree that it's work. It takes upkeep and constant intellectual work to write the posts and to continue coming up with blog topics for the future posts. I'm not necessarily saying that it's real hard work, but it is work regardless.

As far as whether it's technically considered a job, the state of New York happens to think it is and they also feel it's a viable income source as well, as witnessed by the decision to cut unemployment benefits for one laid off attorney in New York. The article is found here, which talks about this particular case. This is a particularly interesting case as the laid off attorney is making a paltry $1.30 a day in income, which in no way supports the blogger in food or living expenses (it doesn't say this, but we can clearly assume).

This will be interesting to see how this actually turns out given the magnitude of this decision. We are in a generation where many bloggers are actually making decent livings from their blogs, which can in turn lead to book deals, freelance writing, advertising, and guest posting that all pay pretty well when, as a writer, you're well established. The site is a fine example of how one can make a living from blogging, not to mention getting the benefits from your own blog (advertising, Google Adsense as the example article above represents, etc.) if applicable. In my opinion, there should be an income limit that is applicable to qualify someone as being truly able to support themselves on a blog alone. For instance, one does not need to file a tax return if earning less than $400 of self employed income for the year. In this case, this person should not have had to file a tax return when making $1.30 per month, but maybe we're not hearing the whole story.

What do you think? Is blogging for $1.30 a day a living and should it disqualify someone for unemployment benefits?

I find this a hard pill to swallow considering the fact that our government has extended unemployment benefits for 14 additional months. Don't get me wrong, I agree with the writer of the article (linked to above about extended unemployment benefits) that unemployment benefits are not incentive to find new work, however, let's be fair across the board for all employees/people.

People are finding creative and new ways to make a living and put food on the table in addition to their unemployment benefits, because we all know it would be difficult to live on just an unemployment check. Is that really fair to someone trying to eek out an existence?

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for incentive to work and for people to support themselves in society, but I think we all need to be a bit compassionate given the hard economic times. I'm curious to see how other states take issue with blogging income. New technology brings new income sources, and states have to adapt to this new income in their own ways.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Some Thoughts on Holiday Sales

Happy Friday everyone!

I hope this day finds you well.

The holiday commercials that are beginning to be played everywhere and on everything are always interesting to me. From the television to the radio, to the internet, and text messages; they surely are driving home their message of, "since you're going to spend massive amounts of money at Thanksgiving and Christmas, lets make it easier to swallow." From 30% off sales, to buy one get one free sales, to free shipping here and there, it's all marketing and they speak to our American consumer sensibilities as a society.

People are back to spending again now that the media has stated that the economy is on an upturn and the recession is almost over/over/lessening/and other varying degrees of improving. What does this mean? Fear is loosening and people aren't so scared to charge on their charge cards, and spend their savings. They are feeling more secure about letting go of their hard earned cash.

Is this good? That's debatable by any ones standards, but a lot of analysts see it as a good thing as the wheels of the economy are turning again. One problem that is a natural reaction, many stores have reduced inventory and it's likely that supplies will run out if spending continues to increase along with demand. It turns out that some retail stores over estimated the downturn that 2009 would experience, but then again, time will really be the teller.

My real rub with the holiday sales slogans and marketing ploys are the fact that a lot of stores try to justify and instill in us the idea that saving money through a 30% off sale for something we don't really need (by need I mean, really need) will really be beneficial for us in the long run, especially when they promote their store credit cards and their 0% for a year promotions. Isn't that what got our society in to this economic mess?

I don't mean to harp on the negative here, because I do like the holidays. I do like the decorations and hoopla that comes with Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. It's like, people take on a better spirit toward the end of the year to get in the mood for the holidays. I love seeing family and friends and reconnecting with loved ones.

I don't think things will ever change here in America with regards to psychological marketing, but that doesn't mean that I won't continue to be amazed. What about marketing amazes you? Do you ever feel like you are constantly barraged by intense marketing during the holidays?

Good luck with all the commercials out there. Stay strong my friends, stay strong. :-)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Finding Common Ground

When it comes to friendships and relationships in general, there has to be common ground to make it work right? I think so and I think most would agree. What about when it comes to hobbies and extra curricular activities? Do the same rules apply. I would apply the old adage, if you're going to spend your down time doing something you love, why not with the people you enjoy?

So, that leads me to my next topic and item that I've been pondering. When you're indulging your hobbies, do you have to have absolute common ground or is it okay to be quite different in your beliefs, ideals, and taste? I am finding that the older I get, the less I can tolerate the opposite of me. I'm a pretty open minded, accepting individual and I can't stand ignorance and narrow mindedness, especially when it pertains to things that I love. For instance, music.

The more I play music with other people, the more appreciation I have for musicians of extremely varied backgrounds and musical taste. I like to play a lot of styles of music and can "get down" with others that are the same. That doesn't mean that I won't or can't accept someone just because they only choose to play classical music, or jazz, or insert musical style here. It just means that I get bored with monotony and repetition. My only exception to this is The Blues.

I'm in a place that I haven't been in for quite a while. I'm playing music with 2 different groups right now pretty regularly and am about to start playing with a 3rd and see if the fit is there. It seems like it may be upon initial discussion, but we'll see. It's got me thinking hard about what I want to spend all my free time on and whether I really do want to devote more time to another musical project.

I have been contemplating putting together a band of my own for a while now and it seems like the more I get involved with, the further that gets out of the realm of possibility. I want to keep that at the forefront and make it happen soon and I know if I don't, I'll fill that time or energy with something else. Oh, priorities.....

Do you find that your hobbies involve a lot of common ground with others? Do you grow from the differences? Learn from extreme differences? What can we learn from all these differences and tolerance?

Here's to hoping things work out for the best and everything is creatively inspiring!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Instant Movies on the Flatscreen

I hope everyone had a great weekend and a wonderful Halloween!

Evelyn and I have recently spent the money necessary to hook the laptop (Macbook) up to the LCD flat screen TV in our living room so we can watch movies and tv shows on it when we wish. It's really been quite a novelty lately and the initial fun hasn't wore off just yet. We had a movie marathon yesterday, taking a break from going out and from Halloween parties. We're signed up with Netflix and we've got the plan where you can watch movies instantly as well. That's been the coolest feature that's available as of yet. We watched everything from documentaries, to romantic comedies, to stand up comedy, and a drama. We can also catch up on tv shows as well if we have time (depends on the work week).

The way you go about doing this is first, you have to buy a cable that will hook your computer up to your tv. This can be done with a vga cord or an hdmi cable, depending on which your computer has. HDMI is better quality and allows for a digital signal to be transmitted from the laptop to the tv. The other cords you will need is for your audio. We have a separate set of computer speakers that we hook up to the laptop (in to the earphone or audio out 1/8" plug in) and that works magnificently. The only other cords or additional accessories that you may want are a wireless keyboard and mouse, which I picked up at Best Buy (no financial interest of course) for about $40-50 and that allows me to sit on the couch and surf that web without having to get up (oh yes, sedentary American-ism).

So, all told, this set up cost me about $119 (had to buy an additional converter cable for my Mac to VGA cord) and I feel that it's been well worth the cost. We no longer have a cable bill, so that pays for the upfront cost in a couple months as it is. Plus, it's just kind of fun to be able to surf the internet from your couch in your pj's on a big screen tv. It's cool for listening to music as well. You can just flip on the computer speakers and have music in the living room while cooking or cleaning up the house.

That's the latest in our home/tech forays.

Have a great Sunday.