Tuesday, April 29, 2008

How to make $130 in 30 minutes

I love free money, don't you? Here's a way to make $125+ in 30 minutes by signing up for a few financial services that will help you jump-start your savings.

1. Earn $25 by signing up for Revolution Money Exchange. It's a Paypal-like service that allows you to send money via the internet. I signed up a couple of weeks ago and have already earned $65 for the sign-up, plus referrals ($10 each) and have transferred the money into my bank account with no problems.

Refer A Friend using Revolution Money Exchange

2. Earn $25 by signing up for an ING Direct savings account. ING Direct has been my savings bank for years now and I love them. If you don't already have a high-yield savings account, you need one. Earn $25 just by signing up and making an initial deposit of $250.

Orange Savings Account Links - Earn 3% with no minimums (remember you must start with $250 to earn $25)

ING Direct $25 Savings Account Opening Bonus
ING Direct $25 Savings Account Opening Bonus

Electric Orange Savings Account Links - Earn up to 3.4% with more than $100,000

ING Direct $25 Savings Account Opening Bonus
ING Direct $25 Savings Account Opening Bonus
ING Direct $25 Savings Account Opening Bonus

3. Earn $25 for becoming a lender at Prosper and funding your first loan. I just started funding loans and I must say it's addicting. I picked loans that were pretty conservative and I'll be earning about 11% on my investment. Not bad!

Business & Personal Loans. Great Rates. Prosper.

4. Earn $25-55 for signing up for Sharebuilder and purchasing a stock or ETF. I've been interested in investing in some "green" companies for a while and last night started doing some research. I had already signed up for a Sharebuilder account years ago but haven't used it lately. I did some research and found some great promotions that allow you to open a new account (even if you already have an account) and earn $25-55. Sharebuilder charges $4 for each automatic investment if you have a basic account (no monthly charges). I'll be using the $55 sign-up bonus to jump start my investment portfolio. Nice!

If you have a Costco account, you will receive a $55 sign-up bonus. If not,,you can still get a $25 bonus.

Click here to sign up for Sharebuilder and start your investment portfolio.

So, now you've just earned over $100 and have a few accounts to start diversifying your savings. Not bad for just about 30 minutes!

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Today is Ben & Jerry's free cone day!

Go help Ben & Jerry's celebrate their 30th birthday by eating free ice cream! Nom nom nom.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Dumpster Diving Adventures

Maybe I have lost my mind, but last night I thought it would be fun to go dumpster diving. I've heard a lot about "freegans," people (with jobs) who go to the grocery stores late at night and live off of the discarded food found in the dumpsters. They claim this is completely safe, but I'm just not that hardcore (yet). But, I thought it would be an interesting Saturday night activity to go and poke around and see what was lurking in the trash cans (that's how I roll).

I don't know what I thought we would find. I knew we would find some disgusting rotted food and a nose-full of unpleasant odors. But maybe, just maybe, I hoped for treasures, like an iPod tape adapter that I have been searching for ever since mine broke which I haven't been able to replace because of the 100 Day Buy Nothing (New) Challenge. I surely didn't expect to find what we did find.

We started off at an business complex and was surprised to find that there were tons of people working at 10 p.m. on a Saturday. Now, I was just a little (ok, a lot) shy about poking through people's trash, so I definitely didn't want to have an audience. We drove around until we found a nice quiet dumpster and parked the car, got out our gloves, and started digging. Mind you, I don't take the term "dumpster diving" literally; we actually just kind of leaned over and peered in. At first, we didn't find anything too interesting. Empty pizza boxes. Cardboard boxes. But then, I rummaged across a huge pile of perfectly good clothes, everything from pants, to sweaters, to ties. I didn't want them but I figured they shouldn't end up in a landfill, so we took them out to wash and then donate to the Goodwill (hello, tax deduction).

That wasn't all. We also found a wet suit in perfectly good condition, a box of CDs, and money! Yes, money! There was a bag that contained about 20 cents in change. Who throws away money? Perhaps it was beginners luck, but we found tons of stuff in this dumpster without ever having to set foot inside it. Who knows what else was in the bottom of that dumpster?

We drove around to a few more with no luck and decided to try some retail dumpsters. We saw a shopping center with a bargain store and thought we might find some pretty good stuff there. Unfortunately, there was also a Jiffy Lube and a barber shop, so mostly all we found were hundreds of plastic oil containers, old air filters, and (barf) human hair. It wasn't completely fruitless because we found a ton of recyclable bottles and cans.

Afterwards, we decided to hit up an apartment complex that had a whole alley full of dumpsters. I was quite nervous about going to an apartment complex because, well, people live there. And yes, we had someone staring at us from the balcony as we "dove" in their dumpsters. I can't blame them though; it's not every day that you see people like me going through your trash.

The dumpsters at the apartment complex were pretty nasty. Rotting food and dirty diapers. MMMMM. Right away, I saw a nice-looking suitcase on top of the dumpster. I go to pick it up and it's heavy with stuff inside. When I opened it up, I found that they had used this perfectly good suitcase as a trash can. Who does this? It's bad enough that you throw away a perfectly good suitcase, but to fill it with trash and then throw it away, that's just too much.

We went to a few more dumpsters in the complex and found some more bottles and cans, Coke rewards points (my bf saves these things if you want to send me yours), and another bag full of clothes. I probably could've kept going all night (it was so fascinating) but my trunk was full so I figured we should stop.

All in all here is what we found:

2 bags of clothes to be donated (tax write-off)
1 wetsuit (sell on Craigslist?)
1 bag of bottles and cans (CRV!)
1 suitcase to be donated
23 cents in change
10 CDs (about 3 in good enough condition to sell on Half.com, others to be recycled)
1 key chain beaner

That was just from about 1.5 hours of active searching in approximaely 15 dumpsters. I was shocked at how much of the stuff in those dumpsters could've been recycled or donated and how little of what was actually in the dumpster really needed to be there. I take for granted that everyone is as conscious as I am about recycling or repurposing old materials and it was a little disheartening to see all that waste. I might even right Jiffy Lube a letter, requesting them to implement better waste management procedures. I just imagined all the Jiffy Lube's around the country producing that much unnecessary waste and I felt so overwhelmed. It's amazing that we're not all swimming in the trash that we produce every day.

As disheartening as it was, it was also great fun. I think I'll definitely do it again. Maybe I'll check out a grocery store, just to see what is actually thrown out. I meant to bring it along and forgot on my way out! Next time, I'll try to remember my camera so I can share my finds with you.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Cheap gas isn't always cheaper

Ever notice that some gas stations are able to consistently offer gas that is 10 cents cheaper per gallon than the other gas stations around town? People flock to these stations and wait in long lines to get the "cheaper" gas. Are these stations just trying to set competitive prices to attract customers or is there something more sinister going on here?

Where I live, Arco is usually a good 10 cents less per gallon than other stations like Mobil, Shell, or Chevron. It seems like a great deal, until you realize that they don't accept credit cards. Who carries $50 in cash to fill up their tank? But wait! They accept ATM cards! No problem. So you fill up your tank on the cheap and use your ATM card to pay for it. Except, it probably isn't much cheaper if you realize that you're being charged $1.00 for the convenience of using your ATM card. D'oh!

We can also factor in that when you use an ATM card or cash you are not receiving any rewards that you would if you were using a cash back credit card (and you should be). Personally, I would receive 3% back on my purchase.

So if gas is $3.67 at Arco and I fill up 15 gallons, we could thus calculate:

$3.67 x 15 = $55.05 + 1.00 = $56.05

But if I pay the extra 10 cents at another gas station and get the same amount of gas and use my credit card, I pay:

$3.77 x 15 = $56.55 - $1.70 (3% cash back) = $54.85

Blimey! Paying more for gas actually works out to be cheaper in the long run, even if I don't pay the $1.00 ATM charge...and I don't have to wait in the long lines at the "cheaper" gas station!

Lesson be learned - sometimes it pays, to pay more.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Is it time to stockpile food?

Sam's Club (Walmart's warehouse division) announced today that they will be limiting rice purchases to four bags per customer, amid supply and demand concerns. Costco is also limiting sales of flour and rice at some of their stores.

They claim that business owners, like restaurateurs, are stockpiling food out of fear of global food shortages generated by media reports. The U.N. is calling the food shortages, "a silent tsunami" that is devastating the world's hungry and driving up world food prices.

Is this simply a case of panic, or are we going to be facing even more dramatic increases in food prices? Heck, the price of rice is already 66% more than it was at the beginning of 2008 and global food prices have risen 57% in the past month. How much higher can it go?

Are you worried? Is it time to hoard food, just in case? Or will that just make the crisis worse?

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Earth Day!

Go out and do something good for the Earth!


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Monday, April 21, 2008

Evaluating a Prosper Loan

Back when savings interest rates were 5% or more, there wasn’t a lot of incentive to run out and look for investments that would provide a higher yield. You could earn a decent rate of return on your money with no risk and no work on your part. Now that savings interest rates are down, it doesn’t make much sense to keep a huge chunk of cash in a savings account where it’s only earning 3%, especially with current inflation rates at 4%. That means that for all the money you save earning only 3%, you’re actually losing 1% of the value to inflation.

I’m not saying that you should run out and take all the money from your savings account and move it riskier investments. Everyone needs to have some cash liquid and secure in case of an emergency or unexpected expense. You just don’t want to keep it all stock-piled in an account that’s earning less than the current rate of inflation.

So, I started contemplating the various options for investing my money. I figured that it would be worth giving Propser a try because credit card companies have been raising their rates and clamping down on consumer credit, causing people to look for other options to get a lower interest rate on their debts. After being in debt myself for so many years, I feel for those who are struggling with their credit now. When I was in debt, I was able to get lots of 0% interest offers, so I was paying very little interest on my debt. I think if I actually had to pay interest (and some people are paying more than 15% on thousands of dollars!) it would’ve taken me years longer to pay it off.

I’ve been browsing the listings for a while, trying to use my psychic powers to determine who the dead beats are and who is trustworthy enough to make good on their financial commitments. Sure, I could just use their credit rating to help me choose, but a listing offers so much more to go on than just a letter score. As I browsed, I realized that there were some very subtle, and non-subtle, red flags that (I hope) can help lenders choose borrowers that a minimal risk.

1. Financially irresponsible behavior.

Make sure that your borrowers have their priorities in line. If they claim they’re taking out a loan to pay off high-interest credit cards and padded a little extra to pay for a vacation, then you should probably take a pass. If they were serious about getting out of debt, they would wait to take a vacation until after they have paid off their debts.

2. High revolving credit balances.

If they don’t have a good explanation for their high revolving credit card balance, I assume the worst. I want to hear an explanation as to how their habits have changed and what positive steps they are taking to get on the road to debt recovery. If I don’t see those things in their listings, I assume that they are liable to making the same mistakes again.

3. Any delinquencies or public records.

I take my finances very seriously, and I would want anyone who borrows money from me to take it seriously too. Delinquencies are a big no no. NO NO I will not lend to you.

4. Vague business plans.

If it’s a business loan, I want to see a solid business plan and why it’s going to succeed. Starting your own business is a risky venture, but you can minimize the risk if you have a solid business plan in place.

5. Lots of missing or vague information.

I want to see that the person has taken some time and effort to make their listing as informative as possible. If they didn’t bother to give detailed information about their expenses, credit card accounts, etc. then that shows me that their not concerned with helping lenders make an informed decision.

6. Inadequate income to handle unexpected events.

Make sure that they have enough extra income in their budget to make all their payments and handle any other unexpected expenses that may arise. If their income and expenses barely leave them enough money to pay the minimum on their cards, than they are more likely to have to make some tough decisions and either miss a payment or take on more debt what something unexpected happens.

7. Borrowers who are also lenders.

I find this one hard to understand - borrowers, who claim to have high-interest credit cards, making loans to other people on Prosper…and then using it as a selling point! It’s like saying, “I’m not only a member, I’m the president.” ?????? My feeling is that if you have credit card debt, any money you have should be focused on paying off your own debts. That’s a guaranteed return on your money with 0% risk.

Using these guidelines, I lent about $300 to about 5 different borrowers with an average interest rate of 11.23%. I stayed more towards the conservative side, but even still that’s a lot better than 3% in my savings. I’ll be posting back to report how well my choices turned out and whether or not I picked winners or losers. I’m crossing my fingers for all winners!

Curious about checking it out? Prosper is offering a $25 sign up bonus for lenders after you fund your first loan.

Business & Personal Loans. Great Rates. Prosper.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Why you need an ING Direct account

ING Direct is one of the best high-yield savings accounts out there. I've been a customer with them for years, and have never had a problem with them unlike other banks. Why do I like them so much?

  • They pay a competitive 2.96% APY.
  • There are no minimums and no fees.
  • They link to your current checking account for easy transfers, BUT money is not instantly available (it takes about 2-3 days to transfer to checking) so I'm not tempted to spend it.
  • They offer automatic savings plans.
  • Their referral plans allow you to earn extra cash for your savings goals.
  • They have great customer service. They're always helpful and knowledgeable (unlike some places).
  • Their website is easy to use.
Really, I can't say anything bad about them, except for the fact that they used to have better rates, which is not necessarily their fault. The days of 5% savings accounts are dead for now so I'll take my 3% and run.

So, if you're still stuck with a low yield savings account, consider signing up with ING Direct using one of the links below. They'll give you $25 just for signing up with an initial deposit of $250, and I'll earn $10 for the referral. Then you can start referring all your friends and earning even more money for your savings goals.

Orange Savings Account Links - Earn 3% with no minimums (remember you must start with $250 to earn $25)

ING Direct $25 Savings Account Opening Bonus
ING Direct $25 Savings Account Opening Bonus
ING Direct $25 Savings Account Opening Bonus
ING Direct $25 Savings Account Opening Bonus

Electric Orange Savings Account Links - Earn up to 3.4% with more than $100,000

ING Direct $25 Savings Account Opening Bonus
ING Direct $25 Savings Account Opening Bonus
ING Direct $25 Savings Account Opening Bonus

Don't think you have the money to start on your savings goals? Here are some quick and easy ways to save money fast and get you on your way.

1. Compare auto insurance rates online.
2. Use the library for books, DVDs, CDs, and magazines. Then, sell your old stuff on Half.com.
3. Pack your lunch. Need some inspiration? This is an amazing site with creative, kooky lunchbox ideas.
4. Stop eating fast food. Period.
5. Sign up for a good cash back credit card and earn money for all of your purchases (but don't carry a balance).
6. Buy all your produce at the local farmers market. I end up paying nearly half for my fruits and veggies than I would at the grocery store.
7. Find a carpool buddy.
8. When eating out, share an entree with a friend. When drinking out, stick with beer or wine instead of fancy (and expensive) cocktails.
9. Drive at a slow and steady speed to increase fuel efficiency.
10. Use Freecycle to find items you need for FREE.

Following these tips, you'll easily save $250 in no time. Feel free to add your own tips in the comments and share your experiences with ING Direct.

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Oh my dental woes

My teeth are quickly becoming the bane of my existence and a drain on my wallet. Just a couple weeks ago, I went in to get a root canal and got a temporary crown put in. It hasn't been giving me too many problems...until two days ago when I was eating kettle corn. I looove kettle corn and was chomping away when I hear CRACK. I had accidentally bit into a kernel with my bad tooth. I run to the mirror and check it out, and it looks fine. Whew. I thought for sure I was going to have to go in for another costly dentist visit, but it seemed just fine.

Then last night, I was flossing away while playing Scrabble with my boyfriend. Why I felt so compelled to floss at that moment, I'll never know, but all of a sudden, I look down and see that my tooth is on the floor! There is nothing more humbling then to see your tooth falling out of your mouth (unless you're 5 years old, of course).

The first thing that goes through my mind is, "Crap! That's going to be another $200!" I contemplated going around with a big hole in my mouth and living off a liquid diet for the next 4 days, just so I wouldn't have to pay any more money at the dentist.

Luckily, Recapit came to my rescue and for $5 I was able to cement my tooth back into place. Let's just hope that my teeth stay in my mouth until I go back to the dentist and I don't have to shell out any more cash for my chompers. If my teeth keep this up, I'll never reach my grad school savings goal!

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Attending grad school without going broke

The heat is on to jumpstart my grad school savings. I recently got my financial aid letter and realized that my $1,000 a month savings goal is going to fall drastically short of the actual cost of attending grad school without incurring any more student loan debt.

Now, I realize that student loan debt is not all bad, but I already have $8,000 of student loan debt from my undergraduate studies and I’m not interested in getting any more, especially because the loans that were offered were unsubsidized loans with about 6.8-8.5% interest. It might be worth it if I was going into a high-paying field, but teaching? C’mon!

After doing the math, I realized I’ll need to save at least $2,356 for the next 6 months to cover the estimated annual budget. GULP.

Here’s the breakdown:

Estimated Budget

Registration fees and health insurance $9,645
Books and supplies $1,881
Living expenses $18,411

Total: $29,937

Fellowship ($7,000)
Current savings ($3,000)
*Federal Perkins Loan ($1,800)
**Teach Grant ($4,000)

Total Needed to save $14,137

Total to save each month (6) $2,356

* Interest is 5% and I don’t have to pay interest until 9 months after I graduate.
**This program is new so the details are still fuzzy. I’m 95% sure that I’ll qualify for this federal grant.

Seems nearly impossible for me to accomplish, but I’m sure with a little creativity and hard-work, it can be done. The question is, how does one go about saving $2,400 a month on a small salary?

I'm already living at home to minimize my expenses. It may not be a glamorous life but Grams likes the company and I can save the majority of what I earn. I'm also considering taking on a part-time job for the next couple of months to increase my income. I get home fairly early from my "day job" so I have a good chunk of time in the evenings to take on something extra.

Most of the budget isn't tuition; it's mainly just living expenses. If worse comes to worse, I suppose we could live in a tiny room...but I don't think my boyfriend or the cats would appreciate it. I'd like to avoid eating PB&J and ramen for the next 2 years and avoid a lot of the stress that comes from being dead broke.

Of course, the wheels in my head are spinning trying to come up with more ways to avoid getting into debt again. I’m determined to avoid making the same mistakes I made the first time around. And you know, as I come up with my brilliant schemes, I’ll be posting them here.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Why a Recession is Good for Us

The media has done a good job worrying us about the future. Sometimes, listening to the news, I convince myself that I should be building a bomb shelter and stockpiling food to deal with the impending world crisis. What with global warming, food shortages, and the upcoming economic collapse, we’re all doomed! Gas is creeping near $4 a gallon. Food is getting more expensive every day. People are filing for foreclosures left and right. Everything seems to be coming together to create a perfect mess.

But actually, when you stop to think of it, these things aren’t so bad after all. In fact, it’s about time these things started to happen.

The way I see it, the economy has been behaving like a teenager who’s just left home for college. At first, they eat all the junk food they want. They get a credit card and buy, buy, buy. They drink and party and stay up late. They think that life is just grand. But then, the consequences set in. They’re fat, broke, and hung over and realize that it’s about time to grow up.

That pretty much sums up how our economy has been behaving for the past 10 years. Now, we’ve got to suck it up, pay the consequences, and work off that Freshman 15! The good news is that once we start getting our act together, we’ll enjoy the benefits of our responsible behavior. Here are just some of the positive effects that I see coming our way.

1. People will get creative.

You know the old saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Well lately, we haven’t had much necessity. Easy credit has put the world at our fingertips. Now that it’s gone, we’ll just have to get creative to find ways to enjoy the same quality of life that we’re used to. Just think of all the breakthroughs in alternative energy that we’ve made in the past few years. Once we started to feel the burn of high oil costs, people started going to the drawing board to find a solution. Now, we’ve got algae fuel, energy producing knee braces, and revolving doors that produce generate power, among numerous other unthought-of possibilities. I have faith that we’ll pull together to see this thing through and end up with some great innovations as a result.

2. We’ll lose weight.

Food in America has been notoriously cheap and easy. Packaged foods and fast foods provide convenience and so far have been relatively cheap. Now that food is getting more expensive, people may have to get more creative with their eating habits and turn to healthier, inexpensive alternatives like lentils, beans, and other whole foods. Forget the South Beach Diet; try the Recession Diet.

3. People will talk more about money.

Have you noticed that ever since people started buzzing about a recession, people are talking a lot more about money? They’re not bragging about their most recent purchase or that big raise they got (thank god); they’re talking about their problems. People feel more comfortable admitting their mistakes when they think they’re not alone. Who wants to talk about their credit card debt when Sally is gushing about her expensive new sports car? Maybe, people can start coming out of the financial closet and create dialogues about smart money choices. Sharing knowledge is one of the great things about being human - we don’t have to experience something ourselves to learn from it. As people open up, more people will be able to draw upon their experiences to make wiser financial decisions.

4. There will be less traffic.

People think twice about driving their car when gas costs almost $4 per gallon. There will be more people carpooling, taking public transit, and just plain not driving. As a result, there will be fewer cars on the road and less traffic. HALLELUJAH! I’d gladly pay more for gas if it meant sitting in my car for fewer hours. As an added bonus, people will realize that driving like a jerk costs them money. No more people speeding past you on the freeway and driving like maniacs (ok, we can wish right?)

5. We’ll reduce our impact on the environment.

Saving money and helping the environment go hand in hand. Walking instead of driving, turning off unused lights, buying less…all of these things cut back on energy use and make the world a greener place.

The next time you here people complaining about the shrinking economy, don’t fret. Just think about how great life is going to be. You’ll be more creative, look great in your bikini (or speedo) this summer, have some stimulating conversations, spend less time in traffic, and be one with nature. Recessions are great, aren’t they?

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Monday, April 14, 2008

When are you going to receive your tax rebate check?

Hooray for May 9th!

That's when I'll be receiving my tax rebate check. That baby is going right into savings. That's right. Unlike the government, I think a healthy economy is based on savings. How else are people going to have the money to invest in capital? Then again, I'm probably preaching to the choir. :)

Do you know when you're going to receive your check? Are you counting down the days?

In case you're curious, here's the estimated schedule from Money.com:

Direct deposit payment
If last 2 digits of your SS# are: Your rebate should be sent by:
00-20 May 2
21-75 May 9
76-99 May 16

Paper check
If last 2 digits of your SS# are: Your rebate should be sent by:
00-09 May 16
10-18 May 23
19-25 May 30
26-38 June 6
39-51 June 13
52-63 June 20
64-75 June 27
76-87 July 4
88-99 July 11

Let's hope you're not getting your refund by check and your social security number doesn't end in 88-99. :)

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Debt Mind Trap #5: You think shopping is a hobby.

Friend A: What do you want to do today?

Friend B: I don’t know. What do you want to do?

Friend A: Hmmm…I don’t know. We could go to the mall?

Friend B: I guess. There’s nothing else to do.

Ok, so Friend A and Friend B might be kind of boring people, but I’m sure this sounds vaguely familiar. You don’t know what else to do, so you just go shopping. There are countless “entertainment centers” with little else to do but shop and eat. You walk around. Browse the shops. Buy an overpriced pretzel, coffee, or cheese-thing-on-a-stick. It’s all very uninspiring, but it passes the time.

Even if you don’t buy something, it’s still a dangerous habit. Just by sheer proximity you are increasing your chances of spending money on something you don’t need. You may be able to escape without buying something the first time, but window shopping plants little seeds of discontent. Even I find things that I didn’t know I needed until I saw them at the store. Yes, I neeeeeed that fancy garden tool. I didn’t know it existed before now, but I NEED it. J

There are tons of other things to do if you just do a little research. I love Yelp to find free events and festivals nearby. Make a list of all the things you’ve ever wanted to do and when you get stuck you can just refer to your list for inspiration. The world is a big place, full of possibilities. Don’t waste your life in a mall!

So there you have it - the 5 Debt Mind Traps to avoid. If you can recognize these thought patterns before you swipe the credit card, you're ahead of the game. Stop and acknowledge your thoughts for what they are - a road block on your path to financial freedom. Then you will feel more empowered to make better decisions and stop the cycle of credit card debt.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Debt Mind Trap #4: You think spending money will improve your life.

If only I had…

…a more professional wardrobe, I would be taken more seriously at work.

…new workout clothes, I would go to the gym.

…a faster computer, I could get started with that new project.

…this storage unit, I would never lose things.

…an expensive new haircut, I would feel more confident.

…an exotic vacation, I would feel relaxed.

This list could go on and on with things that we think we could buy to improve our lives. Some of these things might accomplish their intended goal, but most likely, you could’ve accomplished the goal without spending the money. New gym clothes might motivate you to go to the gym, but you very well could’ve gone to the gym without them.

What is more likely to happen though, is that buying these things only serve as a quick-fix to a bigger problem. The new gym clothes might get you to the gym one or two times, but once they are not so new, the appeal is gone and you’re not going to the gym anymore. The new haircut might make you feel good for a while, but once everyone has gushed over how great it looks, you’re back to feeling the same way you did before you got the haircut. The exotic vacation might give you a temporary energy boost, but after a few weeks, you’re feeling stressed and worn out again.

Spending money on things is only a superficial solution. If you really want to make changes in your life, look to the root of the problem, and start there. Most likely, you won’t have to swipe your credit card to solve the problem.

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

$25 Bonus for signing up with Revolution Money Exchange

Ever heard of Revolution Money Exchange? Ya, neither had I until today.

Apparently, they're trying to compete with Paypal in the money exchange business. To get the word out, they're offering a $25 sign up bonus for new customers.

I checked out their website and they look pretty legit. Their accounts are FDIC insured and there are no fees for sending or receiving money. This would make it super easy to pay a friend back, pay your portion of the rent to your roommate, or pay on Ebay, of course.

The sign up only took about 2 minutes and voila, there was the $25 credit in my account. Plus, as an added bonus they're giving $10 for each person you refer.

If you sign up using the graphic below, you'll receive the $25 sign up bonus and I'll receive the $10 referral bonus. Nice! But don't delay because the offer ends April 15th.

Refer A Friend using Revolution Money Exchange

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This and That: My Week in Review

I'm proud to report that the sun is shining here in Cali and my garden is thriving! The zucchinis, bell peppers, and eggplant already have little fruit growing on them. Yay! I had to replant them from their containers because they were just getting too big. I was this close to going out and buying some wood to build a box to put them in so that the dogs wouldn't trample them, but that would mean breaking the 100 Day Buy Nothing (New) Challenge! No way was that going to happen! :)

Thankfully, my dad is a notorious pack-rat. He has oodles of crap lying around, which used to annoy me, but really helps me now because if I need something, he usually already has it. For example, I needed a power strip. He had them. I needed some containers for my garden. He had tons of them. Now, that I needed something to build a garden enclosure, of course, he had everything we needed.

The solution was to simply put up four posts and encircle it with chicken wire. The open end very nicely wraps around the corner so that it easily opens and closes like a door. Total cost: $0.00! Here's the end result:


And here are the zucchinis (if you squint real hard you can see them):


And a baby little eggplant:


Rising food costs won't get me! Growing food is economical and strangely satisfying. I guess I'm just a farmer at heart.

Yesterday, I made it to the Farmer's Market. I ended up scoring a bag of spinach and a bag of lettuce for just $2. Not a bad deal. At the grocery store I probably would've paid three times that much, and by buying at the Farmer's Market, I'm supporting local farmers. Hooray! PLUS, while I was there, the county public health department was there giving away free energy efficient light bulbs. It was a very productive trip.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful weekend. Check back tomorrow; I'll be posting DMT #4!

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Debt Mind Trap #3: You think that you are too busy to manage your finances

The mail comes and it’s just one bill after another. You look at the pile of bills and feel overwhelmed and exhausted just thinking about it. There’s no possible way you could sort it all right now. Later, you’ll put aside some time to tackle it head on. The only problem is, later is too late. By the time you’ve gotten around to the huge pile of bills, you find that some of them are already past due. Oops!

This hurts you in more ways than one. Not only do you end up having to pay late fees, which is annoying enough, but you also hurt your credit score and cause your interest rates to sky rocket. Some credit card companies have a universal default policy, meaning that if you are late on a payment with any of your creditors, they can raise your interest rate to a default rate, as high as 29.99% or even higher. Just by being late on one bill, you may end up with higher interest rates on ALL of your credit cards.

So, let’s do the math to see how much this could end up costing you. Let’s imagine that you have $5,000 in credit card debt at a decent 12% APR. If you pay the minimum payment, you will end up paying $2,500 in interest. Now, let’s imagine that you start off with the same $5,000, but your interest rate is 23%. If you pay the minimum, you’ll end up paying $8,833 in interest. That’s a heck of a lot more money that could’ve been saved if you were able to get a better interest rate.

Those bills may seem like a headache you want to avoid now, but in the long run you’re only prolonging your misery. When you’re in an unpleasant situation, sometimes it’s easier to avoid the problem than it is to face the music. Of course, this doesn’t accomplish anything except making the problem worse. The debt is not going to just go away if you don’t open the bill. The best thing to do is face your fears, get organized, and stay on top of your bills like your life depended on it!

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Debt Mind Trap #2: You think you deserve it.

After a long week of work, you’ve decided to stop by the mall for some “window shopping.” While you’re there, you see a pair of shoes that you think would look great on you. You decide to buy them as a reward for your long week at work. After all, you deserve it, right? WRONG.

We all like to treat ourselves from time to time, but it’s not a treat if you’ve got to put it on a credit card. Those amazing shoes may seem like a reward now, but in the long run they are more of a punishment. The temporary joy of having something new will pale in comparison to the long, drawn out struggle you’ll have with your bills later.

How do we avoid DMT #2? We must learn to deny ourselves from time to time. Somehow, our culture of consumption has convinced us that we deserve, maybe even have a right, to have nice things. We’ve forgotten that sometimes, life is tough and we have to “do without.” Remember, a new pair of shoes might seem nice now, but being debt free is even nicer!

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Debt Mind Traps: How We Get Ourselves Into Debt

I would venture to say that most people, if given the chance to choose between having credit card debt or not, would choose to not have credit card debt. No one really wants to pay interest or have debt collectors calling all the time. Why is it then, that so many of us end up struggling to pay off credit cards?

Of course, you could just be unlucky and have some unfortunate, catastrophic event happen to you. Most likely though, it wasn't one big thing; it was many little things that added up to what now equals a hefty credit card bill. You might not have even noticed it happening. A pair of shoes here. A trip to the grocery store. A medical bill. Slowly the bill just kept getting bigger and bigger until one day, you realized that you were thousands of dollars in credit card debt and you're left asking yourself, "What happened?"

So what DID happen? I'll tell you. You have fallen victim to the costly set of "Debt Mind Traps" that caused you to make bad financial decisions. The good news? Recognizing these psychological patterns, or what I'll call "Debt Mind Traps," will allow you to break free of the cycle of credit card debt.

Over the next few days I'll cover some of these DMTs and how to change your thought process so that you'll be one step closer to financial freedom. After all, paying off the debt is only one step of the process. In order to make sure that you never end up in debt again, you've got to change how you think too.

Debt Mind Trap #1: You think you’ll have the money later to pay off your debts easily.

You’ve convinced yourself that someday soon you’ll have the money to pay for the stuff that you want now. Maybe you think you’ll be receiving a raise, a tax refund, a bonus, or any other cash windfall, or you’re just waiting for the next paycheck. Whatever it is, you figure that being broke is temporary, and that soon, you’ll be rolling in the dough.

Unless you’re Miss Cleo, you shouldn’t be predicting the future. Any number of things can conspire to come between you and your money. Instead of getting a raise, you may be given a pink slip. They may find an error in your taxes that causes you to owe money instead of getting money back. Anything could happen.

Even if you’re 100% certain that you’re going to receive the money, you should still exercise caution and wait until that money is sitting safely in your account. Why? First of all, unexpected expenses may pop up that will cut into your discretionary spending. You may have thought twice about buying those new shoes if you knew that you were going to have to spend $500 on a car repair. Second, by the time you’ve received the money, you’ve probably already thought of a million other ways to spend the money and the last thing you’ll want to spend it on is your credit card bill!

Follow the golden rule of finance - don't spend more then you have and you'll never end up in debt.

Debt Mind Trap #2
Debt Mind Trap #3
Debt Mind Trap #4
Debt Mind Trap #5

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Free coffee at Starbucks tomorrow

Starbucks will be giving away 8 oz. cups of their new brew, the Pike Place Roast, for 30 minutes tomorrow, April 8, starting at 9 a.m. PST. So go get your Free Jamba Juice then get your free coffee! What a glorious day!

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Who knew there were so many ways to count money

How People Count Cash? - video powered by Metacafe

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Get the most out of your gym membership

One of the most important money saving tips to follow is to stay healthy. Exercising regularly can help you avoid many costly health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. While some may decide to go-it-alone and exercise without a gym membership, others may decide to spend a considerable amount of cash to get them on track to their fitness goals. The most obvious way to get the most out of your gym membership is to go often, but here are a few other ways to take advantage of your gym membership.

Take showers at the gym.

After a long, hard workout, you’re most likely in need of a shower. Since you’re already there, why not take advantage of the free shower facilities at the gym? Sure, you might have to look at a few old ladies/men walking around naked, but your water bill thank you for the sacrifice. If you figure that the average 10 minute shower costs $1.12 for water and heating costs, taking a shower every day at the gym would save you $33.60. That might even be enough to pay for the gym membership itself!

Take advantage of group exercise classes.

Usually, you can get a much more effective and comprehensive workout if you attend one of the instructor-led group exercise classes. The classes are usually designed to target all the major muscle groups and pace you to optimize your heart rate. One hour group classes give you much more calorie-burning power than say, one hour on the treadmill. Plus, there is accountability. You’ll feel motivated to keep going because you see a whole class full of other people working through it.

See if your gym card can get you discounts.

Some gyms offer perks programs for their members. 24 Hour Fitness, for example, offers discounts for car rentals, flower delivery, airline reservations, and more. Check with your gym to see if they offer something similar.

Catch your favorite TV program at the gym.

Stop being a couch potato; be a gym potato. Whether you watch Desperate Housewives, Jeopardy, or CNN, you can probably watch it at the gym. If the TVs aren’t tuned to the right channel, don’t be afraid to ask someone to change it for you. Time your gym visits to coincide with your favorite TV program and you’ll never have to turn on your TV again! Ok, maybe not, but if you’re going to watch TV, you might as well do it on someone else’s dime.

Utilize the facilities.

Gyms offer a lot more than just treadmills and weight machines. Most often they also have steam rooms, saunas, and/or hot tubs (not all locations always offer the same facilities so if you have a multi-gym membership, check nearby locations to see what facilities they have to offer) . Steam rooms and saunas can be great for opening up pores, increasing circulation, and just plain relaxing so, instead of paying an arm and a leg at the spa, grab your loofah and exfoliating masks and head down to the gym for a little DIY spa action.

Hang out with a friend.

Instead of going out to dinner or catching a movie, hang out with friends at the gym. Some gyms have basketball courts, racquetball courts, swimming pools, and many other facilities that can be used for group recreation. If your friends don’t have a membership, gyms are often very willing to give out free passes to friends.


Most likely, the people working out at the gym next to you are members of your community. They could be a dry cleaner, a restaurant owner, a landscaper, or something closely related to your field. Don’t be afraid to chat with people. It may be difficult if they have an iPod stuck in their ear, but most people are just as bored at the gym as you are. Offer to alternate sets on the weight machines or meet the people in your group exercise class. Having friends at the gym will not only make your workouts more enjoyable, but it could offer you opportunities to swap services with the people in your community.

Use the trainers.

The trainers will do a lot of things for you for free…in hopes that one day you’ll sign up for training sessions. Take advantage of this. They can offer a range of free services like training sessions to show you how to use the gym equipment, fitness assessment, body fat analysis, nutrition counseling, and goal management. Check with a trainer to see what services they’re willing to provide to you.

Don't forget to take the new poll before you go! I'm curious to see how many people have a gym membership.

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Saturday, April 05, 2008

This and That

Today is Day #33 of the "Buy Nothing (New) Challenge" and I have to say that I haven't struggled much at all. The one thing that I've been itching to buy is potting soil. I know it sounds silly...33 days and the one thing I want to buy is dirt, BUT, it is springtime and the dirt in my backyard is just not cutting it for my seedlings. I attempted to grow some seedlings using an egg carton and some compost but unfortunately, I think the compost was too thick for the little seeds to flourish. I may try to re-pot some of my existing plants to get some of the soil out from them or just try the regular ol' dirt and see what happens.

I'm off to another buy-nothing weekend. I'm taking a friend out for her birthday tonight; I figure I'll buy her a drink or two in place of a gift. Have a happy weekend everyone!

Here's a roundup of my favorite stuff from the web this week:

Who knew coffee grounds were so useful?

Mmmm, yum! These look like they'd be mighty tasty, and if you wrapped them up right might make a good home-made present.

This might not be very useful in California since it hardly ever rains here, but here's an idea: Collect rain water in a barrel to use in your garden and reduce your water bill.

Cellfire sends coupons to your cell phone so you'll never leave a coupon at home.

American Express is giving away four free movie or museum tickets if you make a purchase at one of their sponsored retailers. Not a bad deal if you have a Del Taco near you! I figured you could buy 3, 29 cent tacos and you'd end up with the four movie/museum tickets for only 90 cents! Too bad I don't have an AMEX card...grrr.

Free 2 Be Frugal has posted a few Earth Day deals. Walmart is giving away re-usable shopping bags and so is Macy's.

Here's a cool idea (snickers at the unintended pun): a refrigerator that uses no electricity!

Being Frugal
has posted a huge compilation of tips (168 to be exact) on how to stretch a dollar.

Think Your Way to Wealth has a very funny post on "Ways to Aggravate Your Spouse With Your Frugality." I particularly like #7 and #5.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

If it's not one thing...

Sigh. I spent 3 hours at the dentist this morning finishing up a root canal and a cavity. I never hated the dentist...until now. It's not that the dentist was bad necessarily. Actually, he was quite good. There is just something wholly unpleasant about spending hours in a chair, drooling on yourself while someone is drilling and poking and prodding in your mouth.

Today wasn't my first trip to the dentist. In the past two weeks, I've spent close to 7 hours in the dentist's office for one root canal and one cavity and I'm not done yet. I still have to go back in a couple weeks to have my permanent crown put on.

All in all, I've shelled out about $750 cash and had to take three days off of work (as a substitute teacher you don't get any sick days). Thankfully, I have some savings so it doesn't throw me back in the debt loop, but it sure does complicate my savings goals. The combination of cash outlay and loss of income makes this quite a significant financial event.

It just seems, if it's not one thing then it's another. Car repairs, medical expenses, graduation school fees...I can't get a break. Once I start making some financial headway, I get blasted with a major unexpected expense. I guess I'm doing alright considering I still have a bit of a cushion and I don't have any credit card debt, but will this ever end?

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

How good are you at the stock game?

Want to see how well you'd do in the (fake) stock market? Check your instincts over at Inspectd and see how much fake cash you can rake in.

How does it work? You start off with $100,000 imaginary buck-a-roos to play with in the stock market. They show you a random chart of a company's stock and you have to decide whether to buy, sell, or hold. If you make the right decisions, your account will grow. If not, you'll have lost your $100,000 smackers in no time.

So how did I do? In about 5 minutes I was up $99,397. Not too shabby. Actually, only about two decisions greatly affected my account value. I made one bad decision and lost a whoppin' $30,000 because I bought instead of sold. I thought I was done for, but then I made $100,000 for buying instead of selling. Goes to show that just one decision on the stock can have a great impact (if you are playing with $100,000 fake money).

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

How to Beat the Stress of Debt

Let's face it. Having debt can cause a lot of stress. I had a lot of anxious days and sleepless nights when I was in debt. You may be late on your payments, stuck in a dead-end job, or have bill collectors hounding you day and night. Whatever situation you're in, debt is not fun (I know!) Here are some suggestions to help you keep your cool and stay focused as you work towards paying off your debt.

1. Take action

Having a mountain of debt can make you feel powerless. You feel like you have no control over your life because that debt is holding you back from what you really want to do. Those feelings of powerlessness don’t help you at all. When you start feeling overwhelmed and helpless, remember who’s in charge. You! Don’t resign yourself to inaction.

What can you do? First, you can educate yourself. If you’re reading this, then you’re already on your way. Read lots of blogs to find support and ideas. Mint.edu has a great resource of 30 e-books on personal finance. Then, go to the library and browse the personal finance section. There are lots of free resources out there, so there is no need to go out and buy new books (that’ll just create more debt!)

Second, find ways to increase your income. Think about asking for a raise. Look around at the stuff you have and decide if there are things you can sell. DVDs, books, and CDs are all very easy to sell on either Amazon.com or Half.com. Get creative and find a way to make something and sell it. Etsy is a great place for crafters to sell their products. Or maybe you can even take on a part-time job. If you’re spending all your time working, you won’t have the time to be spending any money!

Third, get serious about cutting back. You’ll be surprised at all the things you can get rid of and still be happy. Cable, Netflix, TiVo, eating out - these are all luxuries that can be cut out to aid in your debt reduction.

Find inspiration

Paying off debt can be a long, arduous process. There are going to be times when you feel like giving up or cheating a little bit. When I was struggling with debt, I worked at a job I hated, just so I could pay off the debt faster. Some days I felt like quitting then and there, but I knew there was a bigger goal I was working towards. When I felt down, I thought about my long-term goals like owning a chateau. It may sound silly, but it was a really fun goal to have. I had a picture of my dream chateau on my desktop so that when I turned on my computer I was reminded of what I was working towards. If I started getting frustrated, I would take a break and look at chateaux for sale. Usually, my spirits would be renewed and I felt motivated to stay on track. Find what works for you. It could be a yacht, a dream vacation, a fancy car, or the freedom to work at a job you love. Your imagination is your only limit.

3. Find support.

I owe a lot of my success of paying off my debt to this blog. Before I started this blog, I felt self-conscious and embarrassed talking about money problems. In our culture, talking about money problems is a sign of weakness, so it makes it difficult to find support. Most people get uncomfortable when you start talking about being on a budget, probably because they don’t want to think about how they themselves should be saving money too. They want to keep you down with them.

Try to stay away from those people who encourage your bad habits and surround yourself with like-minded individuals, or have a buddy that you can call when you are feeling tempted. Think of it as a Shoppers Anonymous sponsor. Don’t be afraid to admit your mistakes. The more we start opening up about money, the better off we’ll all be because we can learn from each other’s mistakes and successes.

4. Replace old habits with new ones.

They say that once you break an addiction, you usually replace it with another one. If you were addicted to shopping, make sure that the old addiction isn’t replaced with another bad habit that’s going to cause you even more stress (eating, smoking, etc). Try to find a constructive activity that you can participate in when you are feeling stressed or have an urge to shop.

One great stress relieving activity is exercise. I know, I know. That’s probably not what you had in mind, but it can be very satisfying when you get into the habit. Take a walk. Play tennis (but don’t buy any new tennis rackets). Join a community sports team. Getting out and being active will not only relieve stress, but keep your mind active so you’re not worrying about your debt all the time.

5. Remember, it’s all temporary.

It’s easy to let the debt rule your life. It’s important to remember that this is only one chapter in your life that will soon be over. Don’t let yourself identify with what you don’t have and what you didn't do right. It's easy to beat yourself up for not making better decisions in the past. Concentrate on all the things that you do have and the fact that you're doing the right thing now. Write a list of all the things that you are thankful for. Maybe it’s your health. A loving family. Faith. A really cute cat (like my Isabelle). There are many people in the world who don't have these things, so consider yourself lucky.

Whether your debt is going to take 1 year or 10 years to repay, stay strong and focused throughout the journey. The important thing is that you are taking positive measures to increase your financial health and the habits you develop during your debt defying years will stay with you long after your debt is repaid. Learn from your mistakes and keep your eyes towards the future and you'll be at the finish line before you know it.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Free Breakfast Day at Jamba Juice

When: April 8th from 6-11 a.m.
Where: Your local Jamba Juice
What: Jamba Juice is giving away free breakfast drinks to promote the new Breakfast Line they have.

The Breakfast Menu:
Orange Carrot Bannana: consists of orange juice, carrot juice, and bannanas, and ice.
Orange Mango Passion: consists of orange juice, mango passion juice, and mangos and ice.

Yogurts Blends
Sunrise Strawberry: consists of soymilk, plain yogurt, strawberries, and bannanas
Bright eyed and Blueberry: consists of soymilk, plain yogurt, strawberries, and blueberries.

Berry Topper: consists of soymilk, vanilla yogurt, strawberries, blueberries, and bannanas with organic granola on top. eaten with a spoon.
Mango Peach Topper: consists of soymilk, vanilla yogurt, mangos, peaches, and bannanas with organic granola on top. eaten with a spoon.

Chunkey Strawberry: consists of soymilk, natural peanut butter, organic granola, plain yogurt, strawberries, and bannanas, with fresh cut bannanas on top. eaten with a spoon.

fresh squeezed orange juice
fresh squeezed carrot juice

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Money saving tips from a dirty hippie

Hi everyone! Today's post comes from a guest blogger, The Dirty Hippie. Enjoy!

Hey all you cool cats. Here’s a list of far out tips to help you save your dough. You dig?

1. Go au natural

There’s a conspiracy, man. A conspiracy that is taking us away from our natural selves. Why fight what nature intended? Nature didn't intend for us to smell like Teen Spirit. All of these “beauty” products are designed to make us feel inadequate so that we spend huge wads of cash to fit in. Fight the power! Ditch your razors and let your hair grow free. Hairy pits are sexy! Chicas – keep it real! Stop wearing make-up,and let your real beauty shine through. No need to spend money on complicated chemicals. Nature gives us everything we need – a little patchouli, some aloe, and you’re set!

2. Eat your veggies man

Mother Nature provides us a wonderful bounty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes. There is no need to harm poor, fuzzy creatures for food. Besides, meat costs a lot of dough, dude. By going veggie, you can totally cut back on your budget.

3. Become one with nature

Nature is like the gift that keeps on giving. Why pay $10 to go to the movies when you’ve got nature’s entire playground laid out in front of you for free. Think about it dudes. The ocean is like a fantastical swimming pool. The mountains are a wonderland of trees. The desert is a vast valley of contemplation. The only thing that Mother Nature asks of you in return is for your respect. That’s a groovy bargain if you ask me.

4. Chill out dude

Stress is totally gnarly. There’s no reason to get your panties all in a ruffle. Just let what will be, be. Hang looooose. You don’t want stress to bite you in the end with high medical bills cuz you got a stroke or something, do ya dude? Take a chill pill and just….reeelaaaax. Yaaaaaa.

5. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

The three R’s totally rock my world. It’s like the proverb says, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Profound stuff. Profound stuff that will save you money.

6. Find your passion

That’s the reason we’re alive. The quest for passion and meaning in life. Don’t be one of those people who hate their job – workin’ to live, not livin’ to work. That’s no way to be man! Those who are truly successful in life have found their passion. Money follows after.

7. Unleash your inner creative beast.

The revolution is all in your mind. Creativity is your only true commodity. Don’t work for the man. Let the man work for you. Write. Invent. Paint. Play. That’s where the true money is.

8. Kill your TV!

The late, great Jim Morrison told us that we are ruled by our TV. And that was back when TV was free. Now, people pay to have their minds warped. Do yourself a favor and turn it off! Chuck the thing! There’s lots of other things you should be doing like going to a drum circle or hugging a tree that don’t cost a thing.

9. Practice free love

Karma can be a….well, let’s just say you don’t want to mess around with karma. Give love and receive love. Give money and receive money. If a friend needs to crash at your pad, let them. One day you may need a place to crash and karma will be on your side. It’s all one big, happy karma loop.

10. Happy April Fool’s Day!

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