Archive | January, 2013

#934 Rent Savers: House Sit

30 Jan

There are plenty of French chateaus in need of house sitting. Photo courtesy of House Carers.

There are plenty of French chateaus in need of house sitting. Photo courtesy of House Carers.

Travel the world. Have no fixed address. Help people. Pay no rent. House sitting is an incredible deal for both house sitters and home owners.

First, for homeowners, it’s advantageous to have a house sitter in their home whether they’re gone for a week or months at a time. If they have pets, they’ll be looked after in their own home with no kennel expenses. If home owners don’t want to come home to a flooded basement, overgrown gardens or worse, a burgled house, then a house sitter is the perfect solution to keep an eye on things while the home owner is away. The house sitter can avert disasters or break-ins just by being in the house. Places like Costa Rica or Panama are notorious for petty theft if the home owner is away, so there are plenty of house sits in exotic locations from home owners looking for peace of mind.

For house sitters, in exchange for looking after some pets and plants, or possibly neither, they stay rent-free and let the home owner know everything is O.K. or deal with a situation if one arises. For longer house sits, the home owner may ask for the house sitter to cover utility expenses, but these are often minimal. If you’re a free-lancer, telecommuter or retired, house sitting is a perfect way to save money on rent. Even if you have a fixed job, some areas are in plenty of need of house sitting so that you could live in one area rent-free by jumping from house sit to house sit.

Granted, it can be tiring and stressful, but the pay off is big. Especially if you make a connection with a home owner and get a steady house sit.

Tropical sunsets from the porch are also an option. Photo courtesy of House Carers.

Tropical sunsets from the porch are also an option. Photo courtesy of House Carers.

Here are some suggestions for house sitting:

  • House sitting as a couple is easier as one person can go on to the next house sit while the other stays behind if the house sits overlap.
  • Have a back up for any gaps in house sitting like staying at your parents, children’s or friend’s house. Never too long and always rotate. You’re saving so much on rent, you could also schedule timeshares or the like. But unless you’re rooted to one location, you should never be out of a house sit.
  • Consider a house sit for vacation. You might not house sit regularly and have your own home, but you could house sit to save on vacation housing expenses. There are plenty of vacation destinations out there.
  • Keep in mind off season. Most home owners are looking for house sitters when they’re on vacation or during the off-season for their second home. If you’re happy to be in Central America when it’s hot and rainy and France when it’s cold, then house sitting is for you.
  • House sit for the summer or during your sabbatical. If you’re a student and need housing while school is out of session, you can find a house sit to cover your down period. If you’re a professor with time off, save your salary and house sit during your sabbatical.
  • Some locations have quite a few house sits. It seems places like southern France, Spain, California, New Mexico, the U.K. and locations in Australia and New Zealand have frequent house sits. As well as ex-pat retiree locations like Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico.
  • Be handy. While you are not a paid caretaker, it helps to have a lot of skills so home owners feel comfortable that you can handle old houses, pools, gardens and anything else to do with a house.
  • Love animals. While some house sits don’t require pet care, a lot of them do. So if you can love someone else’s dogs, cats and hens like your own, you’ll find plenty of house sit opportunities.
Or how about American farm houses? Photo courtesy of House Carers.

Or how about American farm houses? Photo courtesy of House Carers.

If you want to house sit locally, you’re probably best off asking friends and family for connections and putting it out there that you’re available for house sits. For more resources, here is a list of house sitting websites. They all charge fees for house sitters, but if you are serious about saving money by house sitting – whether you are retired or not – then the fee will pay for itself. It’s also a way to ensure the quality and seriousness. Home owners are never charged to list their house to sit.

  • House Carers. You can do an unpaid trial to get a feel for it and then pay $50 a year for full access. There are quite a few house sits in locations around the world.
  • Mind a Home USA.  A site exclusively for house sits in the USA. It costs $25 a year for house sitters.
  • House Sitters America. Another site exclusively for the USA. It costs $30 a year for house sitters.
  • House Sit World. House sits around the world and a $40 yearly fee. Their look and interface is not nearly as nice as other web sites. But clunky be damned if it works for you.
  • The Caretaker Gazette. The oldest and most respected of house sitting journals. There is a print and online version. There are paid caretaking jobs in addition to house sits. Caretaking is another option, but usually involves much more professional work and requirements in property caretaking. Online only access is $29.95 a year. There are other price points for multiple years and print-only or print and web access.
  • Mind My House. At $20 a year, it’s the cheapest house sitting website to register on for house sitters. There are house sits all over the world – a lot in English- speaking countries like Australia, USA, UK and New Zealand.

#935 Rent Savers: Live With Your Parents or In-Laws

24 Jan

You can save for your own house while living with your parents or in-laws. Photo via flickr by Images_of_Money.

You can save for your own house while living with your parents or in-laws. Photo via flickr by Images_of_Money.

Living with your parents or in-laws as a way to save money for a period of time will totally depend on the relationship you have with them. Some should never enter this agreement, but others can negotiate it just fine. Children in other cultures stay in the family home through university and even until they get married. It’s really a unique phenomenon in the United States to have children out on their own by the time they’re 18 and off to college.

There are lots of reasons to stay at home through university and later. One of the big reasons is to save money. Now I’m not talking about being a “freeloader” or having an indefinite stay with your parents or in-laws, but here are some good reasons to live with your parents or in-laws for a period of time to save money:

  • College.
    College is a good time to save money on housing and live at home.

    College is a good time to save money on housing and live at home.

    To cut down on college expenses, if you’re going to college where you grew up, it makes sense to live at home. European universities don’t usually offer housing as students always lived at home with their parents while attending school. Because cost of living is high and college is almost free in Europe, it makes a lot of sense. Saving on housing during college will reduce your overall loan burden if you’re taking out loans to cover tuition and housing.

  • Transition times.  If you just graduated college and are looking for a job (or making close to nothing) or if you’re making a big life transition like trying to launch a new business or going back to school, it’s a huge help financially to live with your parents while sharing expenses. Many detailed conversations about expectations should be had beforehand. If your parents are like most parents, they’ll love to have you back. But it’s time for an adult relationship, something that may or may not be difficult for both parties.
  • Saving for your own place (or other goal). If you’re ready to make the move to home ownership, it could accelerate your savings to move in with your parents or in-laws for a period of time. Everyone will celebrate when you move into your new place, in a good way. You could also save for another goal like paying for grad school or starting a business.
  • Health reasons. If you’re parents are in need of your help, it would be a great time to move in with them to help out. They took care of you, it’s only natural to take care of them. Sure they’re not a cute little baby like you were, but they’re you’re parents. It would save both parties a lot of money to have some help and reconnect. Even if it’s only a temporary arrangement like while your mom recovers from surgery and goes to physical therapy, everyone will feel a closer family bond.

Now if you’ve decided to live with your parents or in-laws as an adult, here are some rules to make everyone’s life easier:

  • Have discussions about who will pay for what. You may not be paying rent, but you should help out with groceries, utilities and other bills related to living expenses. If you’re a student and not earning income, then you should decided what you’ll do around the house to help out. Laundry, dishes, cooking, cleaning and mowing the lawn are all up for grabs and a relief for parents if they don’t have to do it.

    A helping hand is always nice, but graduating to an adult relationship is key. Photo via flickr by stephanski.

    A helping hand is always nice, but graduating to an adult relationship is key. Photo via flickr by stephanski.

  • Have discussions about space and your need for your own space (and their need for their space). Ideally, you can have a garage or basement space that is pretty much self-serving. Or if you’re lucky, a second home or apartment that they aren’t using. If you’re staying in your old bedroom in the house with much more shared space, then talking about what you and your parents need in terms of privacy and space will save some serious problems from arising.
  • Have a timeline. Be clear about the timeline and update it as things change. Actively work on your goals that you are trying to achieve while living at your parents. Living with your parents for a year to achieve a goal is fine. If it stretches on more than a year as you are transitioning or looking for work, then have a state of the union with your parents or in-laws and ensure that the arrangement is still working for everyone and adjust as necessary.
  • Be honest. Both parties should be honest and up front about their feelings and what they’re thinking from the start. If one party or the other can’t deal with something, then the arrangement isn’t going to work. If both parties know what to expect and any changes in plans are communicated long ahead of time, then everyone will be happier.
  • Be grateful. Your parents or in-laws are helping you achieve your goals. Show your gratitude by sticking to the rules and financial arrangements, being respectful and thoughtful and saying thanks. And repay them any way you can down the road.
  • Be an adult. This might be the hardest for both parties – letting go of the parent-child dynamic and having an adult relationship. It’s probably easier if you’re living with your in-laws as your relationship has always been an adult relationship (you’ll have to help your spouse transition though). This means not meddling and offering unsolicited advice or judgement from the parents’ side and being mature and self-reliant on the child’s side.

Deciding to live with parent or in-laws is a huge decision once a child has left the family home or if it continues on beyond the “accepted” mark of living with your parents. Be confident in your goals and use the opportunity to save money, become financially independent or start your new life. Your parents will be so proud.

#936 Rent Savers: Work For A Boarding School

22 Jan

Photo via flickr by 401 (K) 2013.

Photo via flickr by 401 (K) 2013.

There’s no denying it, if you don’t pay rent, you save a lot of money. Money you could use to buy a house, travel the world, invest, take a few years off, retire early… Saving on rent does wonders. So now that it’s clear you shouldn’t pay more than 25% of your gross income on rent, how about not paying rent at all? If you work for a boarding school, one of the benefits of employment is free housing. When I worked for a boarding school, I got paid the least amount of  money but saved the most. It was made possible by not paying rent.

Sure, I had to live in the apartment they selected for me. But once you’re working at a boarding school, housing shuffles yearly so you can put a claim in on a better house or apartment. You may also be required to live in the dorms for a certain period of time. Any dorm apartments I’ve seen have been really nice. And mostly block out the sound of over-excited high schoolers.

To work for a boarding school, you have to be able to handle high school students, although there are some boarding schools that have grades 7 and 8 as well. In exchange for benefits like food (at the dining hall) and housing, boarding schools want you to not only teach or be an administrator but coach sports, run clubs and rotate dorm duty. I worked as an administrator, which made my working hours longer than a teacher’s, so I didn’t coach a sport in the afternoon, but I helped out with clubs like the newspaper one evening a week as well as had dinner in the dining hall two evenings a week. I also had a group of freshman advisees that I tracked to make sure they were getting good grades and staying out of trouble.

I don’t have a great love of high schoolers, but all the kids were good kids. They were mostly well-off students with a sprinkling of super-intelligent scholarship kids. The facilities at the school were amazing – on par with a top-tier college and better than some universities. I could work out, have lunch, use the library and have access to ski passes all for free in addition to free housing.

With the one caveat that “free” was actually a taxable benefit that put me in a higher tax bracket, free housing when I worked for a boarding school was a great deal. It saved me a lot of money. I didn’t end up working at the boarding school long enough to save for a house. But my parents did. In the more than 10 years my dad worked at a boarding school, the housing provided allowed my parents to save money to buy a summer home. The house they bought served not only as a place to go every summer, but a home that would always be there no matter what.

Even if you have your own housing and you start working for a boarding school, you can get a housing stipend that would offset the cost of your rent or mortgage.

To get a job at a boarding school, you can sign up with one of the many recruiting agencies, contact the school directly or look at job boards. There are boarding schools around the world including many English-speaking international schools in foreign countries.

#937 Don’t Pay More Than 25% Of Gross to Rent Or Mortgage

21 Jan

While everyone was busy buying, we were still renting what we could afford. With sea views and hardwood floors.

While everyone was busy buying, we were still renting what we could afford. With sea views and hardwood floors.

When my husband and I were looking for a place in 2004, every great rental apartment we saw had happy couples moving out. “We’re moving because we bought a place!” They all said enthusiastically. I didn’t understand how they could afford it. They weren’t much older than us. They certainly didn’t seem to be in a higher income bracket. Only a few years later, it was clear. They couldn’t afford it. Maybe a few of them could, but my guess is the majority of them couldn’t. Banks were handing out loans like candy, and I’m sure a lot of families took on way more than they could handle. When determining your budget, housing is always your biggest expense. In order to determine what you can afford, your rent or mortgage should never be more than 25% of your gross income.

apartment 2

This was such a great place – much less than 25% of gross. A lot of looking paid off.

For someone (or family) who makes $25,000 a year that would be $520 a month. For someone who makes $50,000 a year that would be $1,041 a month. For someone who makes $75,000 a year that would be $1,562 a month. For someone who makes $100,000 a year that would be $2,083. And so on. The simple formula of gross income times .25 divided by 12 will give you your monthly target for housing. If you haven’t been following this rule, do the formula and see if your rent or mortgage falls under the 25% rule. If it doesn’t, your budget will always be stretched. If it does, congratulations, stick to that rule for the rest of your life when looking at a new apartment or house.

apartment 4

A baby meant I finally got a fireplace, but the bigger place was still less than 25% gross. A lot of looking again this time.

But what about 28 or 30 percent you might say? Twenty eight percent is acceptable for total housing costs including insurance and taxes, so if you stick to 25% for the actual payment then, 28% for the total cost should be doable. Although you should still run the numbers to be sure. Thirty percent is just too much.

When trying to negotiate around the housing number in your budget, it’s one of those impossibly immovable chunks of money. Rent due is rent due. The best way to make life easier is to go with the 25% rule.

But my family is too big, my rent district is high, I’ll never be able to find a place for that…the excuses can go on and on. But you’ll be much more at ease financially if you make the effort to stick to the 25% rule. Here are some tips for sticking to the rule and not taking on more rent or mortgage than your budget can afford:

  • Look…a lot. Think you can’t get a place that you want in your price range. You’ve got your work cut out for you to look. The process of looking means a diligent, determined search. And an uncompromising adherence to the top of your budget range, which is that 25% figure. Don’t get desperate and spend more, your perfect place that magically falls into your budget range will appear. Spending less is even better. Classifieds are a good start.
  • Avoid big rental companies and real estate agencies. Large rental companies always charge the most rent. It’s hard to find a place that falls in your budget range when only going through corporate rental companies. You don’t have to completely cross them off your list, but you’re not likely to find something through them. Real estate agencies are harder to avoid when buying. But in both cases you’re better off finding a place through individual landlords or houses that are for sale by owner. Both will offer better deals in most cases.
  • Roommates. Not just for college students, roommates or flatmates are sometimes the only way in larger cities to get something in the 25% category. Even if you own your own home, you can rent out a spare room or make a rental space over the garage or in the basement. You can make life an adventure by renting out your spare room or space on airbnb or the like.
  • You don’t HAVE to be in the city. Jump a tiny bit outside and prices usually go down enough to be in your price range. It’s all a fine game of space, distance and cost. Game on!

#938 Use Free Antivirus

18 Jan

AVG logo 2Here’s more in the tech category of “don’t pay for something you can get for free.” Free antivirus programs hold up in tests against paid antivirus services. As long as you have an antivirus installed on your computer, you should be well protected. The biggest mistake computer users make is not using any antivirus software at all. While some may argue that pay services keep up better with the fast evolving world of computer viruses, free services do the job just as well. If you don’t have antivirus because you don’t want to pay for it, then download a free option today. If you want to save on a bill, cancel your paid antivirus and download a free option today.

Here’s the run down several of the free options out there that have been vetted and approved by everyone from users to computer magazines:

AVG: Like many free antivirus offers, they also have a pay service. I’ve used their free, basic antivirus for many years with great results. The free package has you covered from current malware threats. It’s one of the most popular and well-rated free antivirus downloads out there.

avira logoAvira: Another highly-rated and effective antivirus that offers a free, basic service. It has a high detection rate for current malware and works well according to users and tests.

Panda Cloud: Rounding out the top three for detection and efficacy, it’s another good option to free antivirus that has improved it’s CPU usage recently.

Avast!: Another great option, which rates highly but doesn’t do as well as the previous three on some tests.

Comodo: comodo logoIn addition to free antivirus, Comodo offers a host of other free downloads to clean up your computer like Comodo System Utilities and Comodo Cleaning Essentials. You can use the computer cleanup tools in addition to a free antivirus if you haven’t had virus protection or you want to be extra sure there is not something lingering out there or you want your computer to run more smoothly.

In addition to free antivirus, it’s a good idea have good practices to reduce your chances of getting a virus or other malware. How to avoid malware in the first place:

  • Don’t click on anything you don’t trust. Don’t click on links or downloads from websites, emails or popups that you don’t trust or are suspicious. Even if you have an inkling that it’s not right, don’t do it. Better safe than sorry. If you are unsure of receiving something from someone you know, just ask them before your open or click. Many email spams look like they’re coming from someone you know but it’s clearly weird or spam. Popups try to tell you that you’re computer is infected. It will be if you click on the popup to install anything to “clean up” your computer.
  • Use Firefox, not Internet Explorer. firefox logoI would say don’t use Windows as well, but this is pretty hard to avoid. Viruses mostly exploit Explorer and Windows, although this is changing. You’re better off using Firefox as your browser.
  • Don’t use illegal file-sharing sites. It’s the Wild West of viruses and other malware. You will get infected.
  • Only install programs from trusted sites for trusted programs. There are legitimate free downloads like the various ones I’ve talked about this week. A lot of other “free” downloads from small, unknown and untested sites contain malware. You’ll pay with a computer full of viruses. Free games and screen savers are also dangerous territory. Stick to the “if you don’t trust it, don’t download it” rule.
  • Pay attention to fake sites and updates with legitimate names. Paypal and Windows is a popular one to fake. An email tells you that you need to update or enter personal info. Legitimate companies never do things over email. If you notice, the URL and other details are not right. Report the spam to the real company to keep them up-to-date with the threats out there.
  • Use a firewall. It’s easy enough to ensure that you have the firewall working in your computer’s settings.
  • Don’t put everything out there.
    Don't be a victim of "phishing." Your personal info might make it easier to fool you. Photo via flickr by Jeff Attaway.

    Don’t be a victim of “phishing.” Your personal info might make it easier to fool you. Photo via flickr by Jeff Attaway.

    Social network sites ask a lot of information about you. Don’t make it public for scammers to use. In fact, I don’t even put my real birth date even when the info is private. I have a set fake birthday I use for the birthday requirement. I make myself younger, of course.

  • Keep everything up-to-date. It’s easiest to have updates running automatically for your computer and antivirus. Make sure it’s set to update on a regular basis to keep up with new threats and fixes to stop them, which occur daily.
  • Don’t catch an STD. The most popular thing on the internet? Porn. Despite what’s advertised as popular or trending, porn always takes the top spots. In fact, I think you have to go pretty far down the list for something not X-rated. Visiting these sites very well may give herpes to your computer.

 

 

#939 Photoshop without Photoshop (a.k.a. free)

17 Jan

GIMP screen shot 2

Messing about in the GIMP program with their mascot.

Photoshop is seriously pricey. I usually mess around a bit to crop, retouch, mashup and put text on pictures. Not anything that will win me awards or warrant the investment in the real deal. Now that I’m on my own without an employer to foot the Adobe Creative Suite bill, I do the same things that I would in Photoshop through the free downloadable program GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program).

From my long ago training on Photoshop and my mostly casual encounters since then with Adobe, I can transfer the same tech knowledge to GIMP and find my way around no problem. If I get stuck, their help guide is…well…helpful. I’m running the stable version released last year, v2.8, and haven’t had any problems with it.

The first release of GIMP yielded the Linux penguin logo when Larry Ewing used the program to create the image.

The first release of GIMP yielded the Linux penguin logo when Larry Ewing used the program to create the image.

The collaboration to create and maintain GIMP started at Berkley when a couple of students, Peter Mattis and Spencer Kimball, created it as a class project. They released it to the public in 1996. Users and other computer people ran with it, even when the original developers moved on. An enthusiastic community kept the program alive and updated. It’s been around ever since. Students and tech people continue to work out stable versions to release to the public, building on the idea of open creation and sharing of software.

While a professional would probably want the real thing, the rest of us, which means most everybody else, can do just fine with what GIMP has to offer. The Linux penguin pictured above was made with the first version, which was highly unstable and was no where near as advanced as today’s version. Which means what I do with the program is far from using the all capability that the program has to offer.

The program works on Windows and Mac. It has features like photo enhancement and retouching and supports pretty much any image file format you’d want. So, yeah, it’s Photoshop for free. Unless you want to invest in Adobe as a business decision, GIMP will do just fine and save you hundreds of dollars.

#940 Don’t Pay for Microsoft Office

16 Jan

open officeWhy pay $120 to $150 for something you can get for free? Most of us barely do much more than the basics in Word and Excel, something OpenOffice, a free word processing software comparable to Microsoft Office, offers for free. It’s one of those things where technology purchases really get you in terms of adding on more spending to the initial cost. You get a new laptop, but you need to be able to type documents. Add $120 for Microsoft Office if you’re a student or $150 for Microsoft Office if you’re a home user. Businesses pay more.

Or you could download OpenOffice for free and type away in Writer (Word), Calc (Excel), Impress (PowerPoint), Draw (Paint) and Base (Access). In fact, it’s so similar, I barely notice a difference. If you’re worried about compatibility, don’t be. You can save in Microsoft formats and share away with anyone else.

Usually work places are already using Microsoft Office and you’re not paying for it yourself, so it doesn’t matter. But personally or if you’re running your own business, OpenOffice is a great solution to freeing yourself from Microsoft Office and saving money.

google driveThere’s also Google Drive that allows you to create and share documents online through your Google Account. As the world moves to an online-only environment, Google docs is a natural way to go in document creating and sharing. It’s also free, along with other handy Google features like Google Talk. Linking all your services through your Google account is an easy way to have everything in one place and simplify your sign ins. I love being able to go into my Gmail account and then accessing the rest of my saved information, from Picasa albums to YouTube playlists and documents to calendar items. With Drive, you can sync documents on your computer to Google and access them anywhere online, a great feature for on-the-go work.

So if you get a new computer, don’t automatically fork over the money for Microsoft Office because you think there’s no alternative. OpenOffice is the way to go for budget-friendly word processing that I have yet to see how it’s any different for my needs than Microsoft Office…besides the price tag.

There are a lot of dedicated programmers and technology people invested in the open sharing and creation movement with the philosophy that the software should be available to everyone – not just people who pay. The alternatives to paying for software from a major companies continues to improve daily thanks to their efforts. We’ll look at other great free software downloads available the rest of the week.

 

 

#941 Skype, Google Talk and other online phone services

15 Jan

google talk versus skypeI remember trying out Skype way back in 2003 when it first came out. “OMG! You can talk to someone for free!” It was an exciting prospect to be free from exorbitant phone charges on land lines and cell phones. Then I moved into an apartment where they couldn’t seem to find the phone line. Finally after  a week of trying to get the phone company to get me a phone number, I asked myself why I even needed a traditional land line. I had cable internet installed in no time and signed up for Vonage service. I haven’t paid a long distance charge on a phone bill since.

With the entrance of Google Talk and a bunch of other Google phone-related services, the Skype-only domain of chatting on the phone online got more interesting. There are also smaller providers like ooVoo, who offer similar services.

The nice thing about Google Talk is that domestic calls for the US and Canada to any phone are free. With Skype, you have to pay for anything that is not Skype-to-Skype. All the services offer free calls when you call someone else who is also signed onto the service as well. Signup and downloads are all free.

Baby born far away? Skype it out with the grandparents so they can see the new addition.

Baby born far away? Skype it out with the grandparents so they can see the new addition.

I love using Skype to stay in touch internationally. I finally convinced my parents to use Skype when I lived overseas, and now it’s like they never knew anything else. Video chats let them see their granddaughter in Switzerland and their daughters in the UAE and Nepal. My in-laws also have embraced Skype. This Christmas we had simultaneously present opening in the US and South Korea via Skype with my brother-in-law. It makes it feel like loved ones are a little less far away.

oovooYou can do the same video chat over Google or ooVoo as well. It’s just a matter of both parties having an account and being signed on at the same time to connect. My family sets up “Skype dates” to Skype internationally. Set a date and time (adjusted for time differences) and then sign onto Skype at that time and wait for the other person to call you or sign on as you check email, do the dishes or have a coffee. You can get fancy and get a headset for very little, but as long as you have speakers and a microphone built-in, then the audio is good to go. With tablets and laptops, you can take your Skype or Google chat just about anywhere. There are also apps for Skype and ooVoo to use on your mobile, but you use more data than a regular call.

I’ve even used Skype video conferencing for work. The free service offers video conferencing for up to 10 people. The workplace is embracing Skype, so you’re not going to look crazy or get quizzical looks like you would have not too long ago when you suggest a Skype video conference or chat with colleagues in another location. Again, Google and ooVoo offer the same, I’m just most familiar with using Skype because that’s what I started out using originally.

If you do have to make an international call that is not Skype-to-Skype or over Google or ooVoo, all the companies offer ridiculously low rates. Just buy some credit and make your calls for a fraction of the cost that a land line or cell phone would offer. Between cell phones and online phone services, I’m surprised land lines haven’t died more quickly, but there is no reason to pay for a land line anymore if you can get high speed internet cable instead of DSL. I still have a land line to get DSL as the cost of DSL without a land line is the same as having the land line and DSL, but the cheapest, most basic land line plan is all you need. Long distance and international calls can all be taken care of through Skype or Google.

So if you’re still paying long-distance rates on your phone bill, stop! Use an alternative like Skype, Google or ooVoo to save.

 

#942 Aficionado or Enthusiast Forums

14 Jan

My car gets bargain price care thanks to my forum find.

My car gets bargain price care thanks to my forum find.

Nobody quite understands my love for my mechanic. But that man is a financial godsend. Not only does he save me a ton of money, but I really like him as well. He is opinionated, honest and, best of all, passionate about the kind of car I drive. He also knows absolutely everything about the car as well. He might be a bit crazed over Volkswagen diesels, but that’s why he’s part of an online enthusiast forum that exists solely to talk about and trade information about diesels. Namely, Volkswagen diesels. As he once told me, “that forum is the reason the internet was created.”

He meant the internet was created to allow free exchange of information for the mutual benefit of all participants. It’s a beautiful thing when it works well. Last week I covered a lot of the pitfalls of the internet. So today I’ll discuss one of the best resources on the internet that will save you a lot of money – online forums dedicated to aficionados or enthusiasts of any type of product, idea or group.

Forums don't look pretty and the format has remained unchanged for years, but they have a wealth of information that will save you money.

Forums don’t look pretty and the format has remained unchanged for years, but they have a wealth of information that will save you money.

Long before social media like Facebook, there were online forums where like-minded people could gather and discuss their favorite topic – Vespas, the end of the world, computers, gaming, frugalness, babies, Mom stuff…yes, Volkswagen diesels…and anything else you can think of. Forums are still alive and well with active communities of passionate members who are a bit crazed about their topic of choice. But it’s good thing. You can make connections with people who are way more knowledgeable than you are about a particular topic. You can get the “man on the street” view of something you know nothing about and get up to speed in very little time. The members of the forum are also there for altruistic purposes – to help others who are interested in the same topic, no matter how much of a “newbie” they might be.

I’ve gotten lots of hacks, fixes, free advice and information on forums that saved me seeking a paid professional to solve my problem. Most of the time, in situations like real estate, cars and the like, you’re paying someone for his or her knowledge. When knowledge is freely shared on forums, you eliminate the need to pay for the information.

Online forums is how I found my mechanic, who’s impeccably honest, has saved me thousands of dollars in car care and taught me how to care for my car myself. It all started when my check engine light came on years ago. Being a relatively new car owner, I was worried and wanted to get it looked at right away. A garage was going to charge me $80 just to plug my car into the computer to tell me what was wrong. Then they would charge me to fix what was actually wrong. Enraged that I would have to fork over $80 for a computer readout, I looked on a forum that I had used a couple times for quick fixes on my car. It had a long list by state of people who had the computer readout capability and were willing to help others. I contacted the only person close to me. He didn’t charge me anything for the readout…the rest is history.

Even when I moved away, I stayed in touch with my forum-enthusiast mechanic. He helped me fix problems long distance that my new, local mechanic couldn’t figure out. When you find someone that golden, you don’t let them go.

Here are some forums I’ve found extremely helpful, and they have all saved me money. Whatever you’re looking for help on, check out the forum that is sure to be dedicated to your topic.

  • Car and other motor vehicle forums. Even if you don’t find a mechanic as incredible as I did, you’ll be able to find easy ways to fix things yourself, replacement parts for a fraction of the market price and nice, helpful people.
  • Computer forums. Over the phone tech help is always useless. “Did you restart?” Come on, I’m calling you because I have a serious problem, not because I didn’t do something ridiculously simple. Online forums will pretty much tell you how to fix, retrieve, hack or otherwise wrangle your laptop or computer to do what you want.
  • Ex-pat forums. English-speaking people in foreign countries tend to seek each other out. Whether it’s to fix visa problems, find a renter or sell their stuff when they’re leaving the country, ex-pat forums have a wealth of information and second-hand stuff in countries that might not be fans of second-hand stuff. Even if you’ve lived in a country for 30+ years, ex-pat forums are a great resource to make connections. If you’re new to a country or making the transition, ex-pat forums are invaluable for the move and adjustment. I’m sure there are probably forums for things like Korean-speakers in Spanish countries – like I said, there’s everything on the Internet.
  • Thrifty forums. Forums where people share their idea, goals and encouragement for those trying to save money, get out of debt or live a simpler life. If you feel like you’re alone in your circle of friends or family in your money and savings goals or your thrifty ways, you won’t feel lonely here.

What forums have you used to get good information that has saved you money? If you’ve never tried out a forum, take a look and start being a part of a community for which “the internet was created.”

#943 Timesavers: Have Productive Internet Time

11 Jan

firefox“I wonder if there’s a site called thescrounger.com,” my husband helpfully offered the other day. I looked it up. There is. No, it’s not about being parsimonious. It’s some type of fishing lure. Who knew? I know now thanks to the Internet. It’s easy to spend hours fooling around online looking up things like thescrounger.com.

Ever need to take care of something online and then you get distracted by news stories, links, emails, Facebook and everything else online that soon you’re out of time, and you didn’t get done what you needed to get done? It happens to all of us. I was doing this so often, and usually spending money on unintended purchases, that I made a rule that I couldn’t go online without a specific purpose (which didn’t include buying something), and I couldn’t look at anything else until I completed what I had intended to do. I also had a time limit of half an hour to an hour that I could spend taking care of necessities and playing around.

The best way to handle the internet, just  like your money, is to make it work for you. The web is an incredible resource that allows us to get answers, do in-depth research and be in touch with people around the world faster than ever before. It can help you save money and manage your life and time better…as long as you are the one in control.

I’m not a list person by nature, but I love lists for grocery shopping and internet use. Throughout the day I’ll write down everything I need to take care of online. Then during the designated work or personal Internet time use, I start to tick down the list. First come things I have to get done immediately, next come things I’d like to get out of the way but can roll over to another time if I don’t get to it and then last comes internet play time when I can click and have fun for as much time as I have left. Internet time is separate from email time, but might include social networking. But that’s just me.

My web to-do list for personal time might look like this:

  • Online banking – pay bills
  • Research pediatricians and 2nd year vaccines
  • Put old camera up for sale on eBay
  • Research gluten-free eating
  • Look at ticket prices to Puerto Rico
  • Check Facebook and see what my siblings are up to

In one hour I might get through number three or four depending on how quickly I can do what I need and find what I’m looking for. The rest waits for another time.

My web to-do list for work time might look like this:

  • Update websites and posts for the day
  • Research clients and web writing proposals
  • Research latest story ideas for the coming week
  • Read financial news focused on saving and related topics
  • Check out other blogs and financial sites for trends and future research
  • Write a Tweet or two and make sure it’s syncing to Facebook

In an hour I might get through number two or three again depending on how quickly I can do what I need and find what I’m looking for. The rest waits for another time.

For both personal and work time, I have specific goals to achieve, which makes me feel great for getting it done and I don’t feel guilty when I am fooling around on the internet because I’ve completed what I need, and I can enjoy aimlessly looking at silly pranks on YouTube, photo albums on Facebook or clicking on every Huffington Post story that catches my eye for the rest of the allotted time. Once the time is done, I really don’t want to keep wasting time on the internet. It’s like to much chocolate cake. It gives you a headache and your stomach hurts.

Make sure you’re not a slave to the Internet, and it’s time-sucking ways. You’re the boss, and the Internet works for you.