Are Solar Panels Cost Effective?

April 8, 2020

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John and JaRee Bowers

John and JaRee Bowers

Legacy Makers

413 Windsor Dr

Goodyear, Arizona 85338

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April 8, 2020

Are Solar Panels Cost Effective?

Are Solar Panels Cost Effective?

Cutting down on energy bills can be brutal.

Leaving the heat off during a Montana winter? Terrible. Not touching the AC during a Georgia summer? Forget about it. What if there were a way to fully power your house and not pay monthly bills? What if the sun could power your house for free? Sounds too good to be true right?

And it is. But there’s a case to be made that provided you have the cash for them upfront, solar panels can be cost effective over the long haul. Here’s a breakdown on how.

How much do you spend on power?
The first consideration is how much you spend annually on power. The cost of electricity and usage vary from state to state, but they average out to about $0.13/kWh (1). The average household uses about 867kWh per month, so the average annual cost for power comes out to be around $1,352 (2). Over a 25 year period that adds up to roughly $33,800.

What’s the total cost of installation?
Power is expensive. But so are solar panels. The average cost for a solar panel system is between $15,000 and $25,000 (3). And let’s assume hiring a contractor for installation would run you about $6,300 (though self-installation is possible). Your total costs could be between $21,300 and $31,300 dollars. Part replacement is also worth keeping in mind. Panels are typically warranted for 25 years, but individual parts might have shorter warranty periods (4).

Tax Incentives
One of the big perks of going solar is tax incentives. Right now, the federal government allows citizens to claim 26% of the cost for solar panels installed by Dec. 31, 2020. That gets reduced in 2020 to 22% and vanishes entirely on Dec. 31, 2021 (5). That could make a big difference in your total long-run savings.

Total Savings
So let’s assume you spend $20,000 on a solar panel system and pay $6,300 on installation and claim the 26% tax incentive. That brings your total to $19,462. That’s $14,338 less than you would have originally spent on power!

There are several factors to consider before you go out and install solar panels. Remember that all these numbers will vary depending on your state and region. Daily hours of sunshine will affect your panels’ efficiency. Do research on costs in your area and consult with professionals before you make any big decisions!

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(1) https://www.wholesalesolar.com/blog/are-solar-panels-worth-it

(2) https://www.wholesalesolar.com/blog/are-solar-panels-worth-it

(3) https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/finance/save-money-putting-solar-panels-roof/

(4) https://www.wholesalesolar.com/blog/are-solar-panels-worth-it

(5) https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/finance/save-money-putting-solar-panels-roof/

April 6, 2020

The Gig Economy

The Gig Economy

The gig economy is huge.

Almost 36% of workers were involved in the gig economy in 2019, and it seems like that number could grow in the future (1). But what exactly is the gig economy? What even is a gig? And how is it different from what’s existed in the past? Those are the big questions we’ll answer in this blog!

A gig vs. a job
Let’s start with the basics. We’ve gotten used to thinking of a job as being something that’s permanent. Older generations might have worked a factory for their whole lives, climbed their way up a promotion ladder, and then retired with company provided benefits. A gig, in comparison, is a job with a certain end date. That might be until a project gets completed, a website gets launched, or until your band wraps up a set at the local bar. It’s temporary by definition. Gigs are still jobs. You provide a service and money changes hands. But they’re very different from what we’ve come to expect jobs should look like.

Digital gigs
Gigs have always existed. Old-school mercenaries would sign up to fight until specific contracts expired, jumping from warlord to warlord. But the nature of gigs has changed. When someone talks about a side hustle these days they’re probably describing some kind of pay-by-the-job work they’re doing via an app or the internet. That could be driving for a ride share like Uber, doing design contracts on Upwork, or even finding one-and-done moving jobs on Craigslist!

Technology and shifting mindsets
So why now? Why has employment changed so drastically and so quickly? Part of the answer is the massive shift in technology the last decade has seen. A side gig is now just a tap away on your phone. Someone could be freelancing for three different projects during the day and ridesharing at night—all managed on their personal device. Technology has exploded in this way because it’s what a lot of people want. Independence, flexibility, and control have become increasingly important, outweighing traditional values like stability.

It’s hard to tell where the gig economy will take us. It might be a passing phase that fades away, or it might be the norm for years to come. But there’s no doubt that new mindsets and rapidly evolving technology will continue to affect how we relate to employment for years to come.

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(1) https://www.smallbizgenius.net/by-the-numbers/gig-economy-statistics/#gref

April 1, 2020

Banks vs. Credit Unions

Banks vs. Credit Unions

On the hunt for a new bank?

You might find yourself looking at local credit unions vs. big national banks and wondering “what’s the difference?” It turns out that there are significant differences between the two financial institutions. Here’s a quick summary of the distinctives of credit unions and banks.

Credit Unions
Credit unions are not-for-profit. Becoming a member makes you both a customer and a co-owner. Money that the credit union makes from car loans and mortgages gets used to help other credit union members. However, membership in a credit union can be restricted. It might require a certain religious, social, or community affiliation to join.

Banks
Commercial banks (we’ll just call them banks for now) are for-profit entities with one goal—make money for their shareholders. How exactly do banks accomplish that? It’s not too complicated. They loan money out to people (or you) at a high interest rate. It’s their business model: Use other people’s money to grow their own. That means the top priority for banks is getting as many customers as possible into low interest accounts while providing high interest loans.

Which one is the better fit for you?
It might seem like credit unions are the obvious choice. They’re designed to work for the customer and may offer better interest rates. But they also have limitations. They’re highly localized, meaning you might have a hard time withdrawing cash if you’re on the road. Plus they might lag behind in online or phone app banking. All of these benefits and drawbacks vary greatly between credit unions, so do your research before you decide which one to go with!

The big advantage (and disadvantage) of banks is that they’re often massive nationwide institutions. That means you’re almost guaranteed to find an ATM or branch no matter where you go. Their for-profit model gives them the resources to develop technology, meaning you can probably manage your bank account on the go via your laptop or phone. Just realize that the bank’s primary goal is to make a profit off of your money, so sometimes customer service isn’t a priority.

There are big differences between banks and credit unions that could save you time, money, or both. Don’t just trust your money to a bank because it’s convenient or to a credit union just because it’s local. Do your research to find the right fit for you!

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March 30, 2020

A Quick Guide to Influencers

A Quick Guide to Influencers

We all know the word influencer.

It probably conjures images of attractive young people setting weird trends on the internet that, let’s face it, don’t make a lot of sense. But the world of influencers, especially in social media, is more than fun and games. Huge amounts of money can be involved and fortunes get made almost overnight. This is a quick guide to the wild world of internet influencers.

What’s an influencer?
An influencer is technically anyone with the power to affect purchasing decisions. It’s a really broad net that includes old-school movie stars and musicians. But lately it’s used in a more specific way to refer to social media stars.

Social media is relatively new. Platforms started off with content from normal viewers. For instance, the first YouTube video is from 2005, only 19 seconds long, and is about elephants at a zoo (1). Some content hit it big back then and went viral, but there still wasn’t a way of using those 15 minutes of online fame to start a real career.

That started to change. People started following specific content makers, and certain personalities built huge followings. Some YouTube channels started getting more weekly views than television shows!

With those huge followings came the potential to advertise. Soon, social media icons started getting paid to promote products. Brands could get attention from a huge audience in key demographics just from an Instagram post or shoutout during a YouTube video.

Why they matter so much
But there’s more to social media marketing than audience size. What makes social media influencers so powerful is that they feel like someone you know. They give their followers a window into their thoughts, routines, and lives. A suggestion from them feels like advice from a friend.

This isn’t to say that social media influencers accurately present their lives to the world. Plenty of publicity stunts and carefully manicured public images exist online. What matters is that the interactions between influencer and follower feel personal and genuine. And there’s potentially a gold mine to be found in that appearance of authenticity if companies look to you for a recommendation.

Audience size is less important than you might think
Interestingly, this means that having a small audience doesn’t necessarily hamper an influencer’s impact. Having a social media personality who focuses on a highly specific field promoting your product to a few hundred followers can make a big difference. It’s more likely for those potential customers to feel like they’ve had a personal recommendation than they would after viewing a TV ad or even an online ad, thus increasing brand loyalty.

Influencers have become a key building block in any modern marketing strategy. They’re a perfect combination of accessibility and credibility that can hold the attention of a key demographic or get your name on the radar for millions of followers.

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(1) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNQXAC9IVRw

March 25, 2020

Morning Routines Of Winners

Morning Routines Of Winners

Mornings are rough.

Waking up from sweet sleep to a blaring alarm is never fun, especially if you’re dreading the day ahead. But there’s a better way to approach those opening hours. Here are some tips for getting a step ahead in the morning and building momentum to carry you through the day.

Wake up early
Waking up early is easier said than done. The snooze button is all too enticing when we’ve stayed up the night before and want “just ten more minutes” of peaceful sleep. But it’s also the enemy of having productive mornings. Resetting your sleep schedule and waking up (and actually getting out of bed) earlier means that you have more time for yourself every day. You start off in total control of how you spend your time instead of scurrying around trying to get ready for work. It’s not easy, but an investment in your morning is one of the best decisions you can make!

Eat breakfast
Starting off your morning with a healthy breakfast gives you the energy you need to rev up. It fuels your body and brain to make the most of those early hours. Who wants to wake up at the crack of dawn and try to get stuff done only to be starving the whole time?

Plan out your day
Mapping out your day has a few benefits. Structure is almost always a good thing. Being able to clearly see what needs to be done and when can help you prioritize and make sure things don’t slip through the cracks. But seeing a problem on paper sometimes takes the dread out of it and makes it more mentally manageable. That’s sometimes all you need to get out there and conquer a problem.

Just remember that it takes time to reset your sleep schedule. Make sure that you avoid screens before bedtime, hit the hay early, and avoid caffeine late in the day. Start moving your alarm earlier every week and be patient! Apply some of these tips and you’ll be going on the offensive every morning in no time.

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March 23, 2020

Are Gym Memberships Worth It?

Are Gym Memberships Worth It?

Let’s face it—we’ve all botched a New Year’s fitness resolution.

Sure, we started the year with great intentions and a few gym visits, but it didn’t take long for our resolve to waver and we never returned. However, many of us have kept that membership around. After all, we paid so much to sign up that we might as well hold on to it just in case our motivation comes back, right?

Wrong.

It turns out that gym membership might have been a bad value right from the start. But how can you tell? Here’s a few things to consider if you’re thinking about finally moving on from your overly ambitious New Year’s resolution.

How gym memberships work
Gym memberships seem pretty simple on the surface; you pay once a month for access to gym equipment during operating hours. But annual fees and initiation fees can add up pretty quickly, meaning that you can potentially sink hundreds of dollars into a gym. National gym chains may range in price from $164 to $1,334 per year, but the national average comes out to $696 annually. Plus, some gyms make you sign a contract locking you into a year-long membership. You have to pay for the membership regardless if you work out!

The big question: Are you paying for something you won’t use?
Gym memberships are more cost effective the more you take advantage of them. Going to the gym seven times a week at an average priced gym? Let’s do the math. You’ll pay $1.90 per visit. Go four times per week? $3.36 (1).

But let’s say you visit the gym about four times per month for an hour-long sweat session. You’ll wind up spending $14.50 per hour! To put that in perspective, we spend an average of $0.28 on Netflix per hour. Sitting around watching TV is far more cost effective than working out.

Alternatives to gym memberships
So what can you do if you want to get fit but don’t want the potential financial black hole of a gym membership? It’s often cheaper in the long run to build your own gym at home rather than getting a membership. You also might want to see if your apartment or office has a serviceable gym. If all else fails, you can always do body weight exercises. You might be surprised by how grueling and intense push-ups and squats can be!

The bottom line is that the keys to making your gym membership worth it are motivation and discipline. The cost of buying a membership isn’t enough incentive (2). You have to find a deeper drive to get you in the gym week in and week out. Check out the costs of your local gym, weigh the alternatives, and ask yourself why you want to start working out before you sign that contract!

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(1) https://thehustle.co/gym-membership-cost (2) https://www.healthline.com/health-news/gym-memberships-can-be-a-trap#2

March 18, 2020

Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

Soft skills are having a moment.

Employers are realizing that there are some tasks that computers actually can’t do—at least not yet! So the words soft skills have started getting a lot of traction. One survey found that 92% of employers value soft skills as much as hard skills (1)! But what exactly is a soft skill? For that matter, what’s a hard skill? Let’s take a closer look at these two different types of abilities!

Hard Skills
A hard skill is quantifiable. You can typically learn them through taking a class or reading a book. They’re almost always technically skills that can be used in very specific circumstances. For instance, knowing how to design a website or retrieve data are hard skills; they’re very narrow types of knowledge that require training and technical proficiency to master. Engineers, doctors, and accountants are just a few examples of jobs that are based around hard skills.

Soft Skills
Defining soft skills is more tricky. Have you ever met a leader whose vision inspires you to work harder? Or have a coworker who’s able to rise above a stressful situation and keep a level head? Those are all examples of soft skills. They’re essentially people skills applied to the workplace.

Which one is more important?
It’s tempting to think that hard skills dominate the economy. The digital revolution is changing the way we interact with the world and tech related hard skills are becoming essential in more and more fields. But that doesn’t mean soft skills are going anywhere; one study from LinkedIn found that 57% of employers value soft skills more than hard skills! (2)

It’s easy to see why. A room full of super geniuses armed with quantum computers is useless if they can’t communicate effectively and don’t have a plan! Skills like leadership, conflict resolution, and stress management are just as important as ever and employers know it.

So let’s say you’re looking for a job and you’ve started working on a resume. How do you highlight both your hard skills and your soft skills? Hard skills often shine the most on paper. Portfolios, degrees, certifications, and recommendations all demonstrate that you’re actually proficient.

Soft skills tend to come out in interviews. Make sure you show up early and dress professionally. Making eye contact, smiling when appropriate, and asking thoughtful questions can all show that you’re the type of person who works well on a team and won’t start unnecessary drama. Those little things may seem insignificant if you’ve got a Ph.D from a top university with years of experience under your belt, but you might be surprised by how much they matter to employers and your coworkers!

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(1) https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20190719-soft-skills (2) https://zety.com/blog/hard-skills-soft-skills

March 16, 2020

Can You Buy Happiness?

Can You Buy Happiness?

Let’s face it: There’s a relationship between money and happiness.

Anyone who’s looked at their savings account during a market correction or has lived paycheck to paycheck knows that not having enough money can be incredibly stressful. But there’s also a fair chance that you know of someone who’s wealthy (i.e., seems to have plenty of money) but is often miserable. So what exactly is the relationship between money and happiness? Let’s start by looking a little closer at happiness.

Happiness is really complicated
There is no single key to happiness. Close relationships, exercise, and stress management all may play a role in increasing emotional well-being. Little things like journaling, going on a walk, and listening to upbeat music can also help lift your mood. But none of those factors alone makes you happy—most of them actually turn out to be interrelated. It’s hard to maintain strong personal relationships if you take out your work stress on your friends! Assuming that money alone will outweigh a bad relationship, high stress, and an unhealthy lifestyle is a skewed mindset.

Money contributes to happiness
That being said, money can certainly contribute to happiness. For one, It’s a metric we use to figure out how much we’ve accomplished in our lives. It helps to boost confidence in our achievements if we’ve been handsomely rewarded. But more importantly, the absence of money can be a huge cause of dismay. It’s easy to see why; constantly wondering if you can pay your bills, fending off debt collectors, and worrying about retirement can take a serious emotional toll. In fact, having more money essentially only supports greater emotional well-being until you reach an income of about $75,000 (1). People felt better about how much they had accomplished past that point, but their day-to-day emotional lives pretty much stayed the same.

What’s the takeaway?
In short, you can’t technically buy happiness. However, taking control of your financial life definitely has emotional benefits. You may increase your feeling of wellbeing if your income gets boosted to a point, but it’s not a silver bullet that will solve all of your problems. Instead, try to think of your finances as one of the many factors in your life that has to be balanced with things like friendship, adventure, and generosity.

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(1). https://www.princeton.edu/~deaton/downloads/deaton_kahneman_high_income_improves_evaluation_August2010.pdf

March 11, 2020

3 Tricks to Boost Your Confidence

3 Tricks to Boost Your Confidence

Confidence is an essential life skill.

It empowers you to put yourself out there, take necessary risks, and inspire others to meet their full potential. But many of us face hesitation about how much we can accomplish. Much of the time, our confidence gets outvoted by our doubt and we take the path of least resistance. Here are a few ways to start developing your self confidence and tip the scale in favor of boldness instead of apprehension.

Expand your horizons
Challenging yourself is the foundation of confidence. It’s not easy. Embracing uncomfortable situations and pushing yourself to the outer limits of your abilities can be intimidating. But it’s also essential for building your confidence. Proving to yourself that you can do difficult things and overcome challenges changes the way you perceive yourself. You stop seeing impossible odds and start realizing that you’re a lot tougher than you might have thought. Obstacles get replaced by opportunities.

Start with little challenges and work your way up. Achieving those little victories is the spark that will jumpstart your journey towards greater self-confidence!

Exercise
Working out is good for you, plain and simple. But exercise doesn’t just improve your physical health; it does wonders for your self-image and mental health. It can reduce stress and anxiety, unleash positive chemicals in your brain, and increase feelings of self-worth (1). Plus, seeing positive changes in your physical appearance can be one of the biggest confidence boosters around!

Your appearance
Along the same lines, changing up your wardrobe a little and trying something new is an easy way of boosting your confidence. Looking in the mirror and seeing shabby hair and a faded t-shirt covering a slouching body is hardly inspiring for you or anyone else. Upping your fashion game, trying out a new style, and improving your posture are simple ways to help boost your confidence. A compliment about how you’re dressed can do wonders for your mood. That’s not to say that you should obsess over your looks and spiral out if you spot a pimple, but switching up your look can sometimes give you the self-image surge you need to make big plays!

You can’t fake confidence. People can see through chest puffing and bravado. True confidence takes time to cultivate. But these simple tips are great starting points as you strive for self-assurance. Just remember that there’s nothing wrong with starting small and building towards bigger goals at your own pace, whether that’s at work or in the gym.

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(1) https://www.huffpost.com/entry/mental-health-benefits-exercise_n_2956099

March 9, 2020

Public Speaking Tips

Public Speaking Tips

Fear of public speaking is common and can be intense.

Some surveys have even suggested that we’re more scared of it than dying (1)! But giving a presentation or leading or speaking up at a meeting doesn’t have to be scary. Here are a few tips that will take your public speaking game to the next level.

Prepare and practice
Preparation is key for successful public speaking. That means doing thorough research beforehand on your presentation topic. Keep your speech simple and create a solid outline. That might mean you write everything down word for word or you keep a few bullet points handy. Just make sure you have a clear idea of what you want to say and at what point in your talk you’re going to say it. Once you’ve gotten the content of your speech sorted, start practicing it. Test run it on your spouse, your dog, or even in the mirror. This will give you an idea of which ideas or phrases are working, if your outline flows, and if you have any nervous ticks you need to address!

It’s also helpful to visit the venue before presenting if possible. Get to know the room you’ll be speaking in and what kind of setup you’ll need. It’s also a chance to rehearse in the actual place you’ll be speaking, which can be a big confidence booster!

But even a researched and practiced speech can fail if you don’t connect with your audience. Doing those things can help you feel more sure of yourself, but they’re not enough on their own to sway a crowd. How you talk and your body language are just as important as your prep work.

Speak slowly and build suspense
Fast talkers can be overwhelming in any situation. Blasting through your speech can sometimes indicate excitement, but more often it makes it hard to keep up with, which may create confusion and irritation. Plus, it could be a sign that you’re nervous and jittery, which can be distracting for audience members. Try slowing down when you’re speaking to a crowd. It gives listeners time to digest everything you’re saying and communicates confidence. You can bring your speed down even more for important points. It’s a way to help your audience focus on what you’re saying and hang on every word!

Eye contact
Let’s face it. Eye contact can be weird. Unflinching and unbroken eye contact is enough to make any of us uncomfortable. But eye contact in moderation can establish trust and show that we’re actually listening. As a speaker, it helps build a connection between you and your audience, helping them be more receptive to what you’re saying. Don’t go on stage and look at your shoes or just scan back and forth through the crowd. Choose one person at a time and establish eye contact with them for a few seconds while you speak and then move on. It’s an easy way of letting a listener know you’re talking to them specifically! Just don’t stare at one person in the crowd. The victim of your ocular assault will feel uncomfortable and the rest of your audience will feel ignored, weirded out, or, most likely, a combination of both.

There’s a reason public speaking is scary. We’re social animals, and the potential of humiliating ourselves in front of a crowd goes against everything we’re hardwired to do. But there’s no better way of overcoming fear than with preparation and then confronting it. Try these tips out the next time you’re nervous about giving a presentation or leading a meeting. You might be surprised how far they go in making your next speech one to remember—in a good way!

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(1) https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-real-story-risk/201211/the-thing-we-fear-more-death

March 4, 2020

A Brief History of Credit Cards

A Brief History of Credit Cards

We’re all familiar with credit cards.

You probably have a few in your wallet! But did you know that they’re actually fairly modern inventions with an interesting, and surprisingly controversial, backstory. This is a brief history of credit cards!

Credit before cards
The concept of credit is actually thousands of years old. It dates back to the time of the first recorded laws, if not further. But the practice of credit fell on hard times following the fall of the Roman Empire; the Church opposed lending someone money and then adding on interest when they pay it back. But the Renaissance, coupled with the discovery of a huge resource filled continent, saw a revolution in Western banking and investing. Businesses started collaborating to find out which borrowers were reliable and which ones couldn’t pay their debts.

The birth of charge cards
It wasn’t uncommon for businesses to loan money to customers. General Motors, for instance, started offering credit in 1919 to car buyers who couldn’t pay up front with cash (1). Merchants with more regular customers, like department stores, started handing out credit tokens that would allow purchases to be made on credit.

But things changed in 1949 when New York businessman Frank McNamara realized he didn’t have his wallet at a restaurant when it came time to pay the check. Luckily his wife was there to rescue him. He and his business partner, Ralph Schneider, then came up with the idea of a card that would allow users to dine around New York on credit. It wasn’t a full-blown credit card; it had to be paid off in full at the end of each month, making it a “charge” card. But it was a hit. By 1951, the Diners Club Card was being used by 10,000 people (2)!

“Giving sugar to diabetics”
Big banks were quick to realize that they could make a pretty penny if they started offering easily accessible credit to the masses. In 1958, Bank of America released its own credit cards. Debt from one month was carried over to the next month, meaning consumers could carry revolving credit card debt for as long as they pleased. Magnetic strips—invented in the early 60s—were added to the plastic cards and used to store transaction information at special payment terminals.

But banks had a problem; they had to make sure that the cards were actually accepted by stores. Otherwise, why bother using your brand new credit card? But stores would only accept the cards if enough people actually had them. A mass mailing campaign began, with banks sending out millions of cards to families across the nation. It worked, and soon credit cards became increasingly normalized.

Not everyone was pleased. There were huge issues with cards being stolen out of mailboxes and used to rack up debt. Furthermore, some were uncomfortable with popular access to massive amounts of credit. The President’s assistant at the time described it as “giving sugar to diabetics (3).” Regulations were introduced throughout the 70s to reduce some of the excesses of credit card distribution and protect consumers.

Conclusion
But despite the backlash, credit cards had arrived on the scene for good. Banks united to strengthen their network in 1970, forming the group that would eventually become Visa. Interbank Card Association (i.e., MasterCard) formed in 1966 and then introduced a vast computer network in 1973, connecting consumers with merchants in unprecedented ways.

Today, credit cards are everywhere. In 2017, 40.8 billion credit transactions were made, totalling 3.6 trillion dollars (4). The technology of consumer credit has continued to evolve too. The magnetic strips of the 60s and 70s have given way to chips, and now cards are slowly being replaced by phones and digital watches. What started as a way of paying for dinner if you forgot your wallet has become an international and digital phenomenon that’s changed the lives of millions of consumers.

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(1) https://www.businessinsider.com/5000-year-history-of-consumer-credit-2017-8 (2) https://www.dinersclubus.com/home/about/dinersclub/story (3) https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/credit/more/life.html (4) https://www.thebalance.com/history-of-credit-cards-4766953

March 2, 2020

Cities vs. Suburbs

Cities vs. Suburbs

Deciding where to live is hard.

It’s a big decision that’s impacted by the financial situation you’re in and your personal preferences. That’s why it’s important to know what to expect from the options you’re weighing. Here’s a quick guide to the pros and cons of living in a city or a suburb!

Cities: Pros and Cons
There’s a reason people flock to cities. First and foremost, jobs tend to be easier to find in the city than anywhere else. That means there’s a high incentive to move into town close to where you work. But that’s not the only reason to go urban. Cities are often more walkable than suburbs or the country and often feature extensive public transit. All the culture, nights out, museums, and coffee shops that your city has to offer are all easily accessible either on foot or with a quick subway ride.

But there’s a price to pay for the convenience of city living. Urban housing is typically higher than other areas, and normal things like a date night dinner will probably be pricier than elsewhere. Crime is also higher in the city than the suburbs or the country, so situational awareness is a key skill to develop if you’re living in-town (1).

Suburbs: Pros and Cons
The suburbs are designed to give you access to the benefits of the city while offsetting some of the costs. For starters, your dollar will probably go farther for housing in the suburbs than it will in the city. Suburbs tend to be safer and offer more space, making it appealing to people looking to start a family or couples with kids. Plus, if you’re lucky, you could be a similar distance from the countryside as the city, so you’re flexible between choosing a night in the city or a hike in the woods!

However, it isn’t all sunshine and roses for suburbanites. Housing might be cheaper per square foot, but houses also tend to be larger. That means you can actually end up paying more for housing in the suburbs even though you’re technically getting a better deal square footage-wise. The other big downside is that transportation in the suburbs can be brutal. The cost of driving a car in traffic every day can be high, so much so that suburban transportation can be almost as expensive as urban housing (2). That’s not even factoring in the stress of dealing with traffic.

Deciding where to live comes down to what you prioritize and your stage of life. Are you a young professional with a new job downtown? It might make more sense to move closer to work and be near where everything is happening. The same might also hold for a recently retired couple looking for easy access to quality medical care and date spots. A young family looking for a safer space to raise kids, however, could potentially want to look further out for housing. Just take a few of the factors we discussed in this blog to heart before you make the big decision!

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February 26, 2020

Time Management 101

Time Management 101

We never seem to have enough time.

So often it feels like we’re balancing a million things at once with no wiggle room. We also probably feel guilty when we “take a little break” and burn some time scrolling through social media or chatting with co-workers. There never seems to be a balance between getting all the things done but enjoying some rest every once in a while.

Fortunately, time management isn’t something that requires a total life overhaul. It just takes a little discipline. Here are a few beginner tips to help control your time and use it wisely.

Tackle your biggest task first thing
You might be surprised by how much time wasting comes from being intimidated by a task. Maybe you don’t know where to start, you’re nervous that you’ll mess everything up, or you don’t know who to ask for help. The list goes on.

The best solution for overcoming this fear is to take on your most important assignment when you start your day. That gives you a few advantages. First, you’re closer to peak performance in the morning, meaning your best efforts are going towards the most difficult work. Second, just making a dent in a big project can give you the confidence boost you need to knock the rest of your day out of the park. It’s an easy way of proving to yourself that you’ve got what it takes to get things done!

Use a time limit
There’s nothing worse than setting aside a few hours to work on something only to find yourself overwhelmed and drained before lunch, and not having accomplished what you wanted to do. That’s why setting timers can be so useful. It means that you can work on a task, accomplish what you can, and move on to the next thing before getting burned out and bogged down. Try dedicating an hour to each item on your list and cycle through them. You might be surprised by the difference a fresh perspective makes!

Don’t multitask
This seems so simple, but we all need to hear this from time to time. It’s tempting to take the edge off a boring job or task with your favorite podcast or YouTube videos playing in the background. Worse yet, you might decide to try writing an email to a superior, hosting a webinar, and filling out paperwork all at the same time! What a simple way to boost your efficiency, right?

But you’re probably not boosting anything except the time it will take to complete any one of those tasks. When you try to multitask, chances are you’re actually slowing yourself down and making more mistakes along the way (1). A much better solution is to turn off your phone, put on some classical music or white noise instead of a YouTube video, and knock out your tasks one at a time (2).

Remember that the key to making these tips work is discipline. Setting a timer won’t make a difference if you check your social feed for two hours during the workday or can’t say no to last-minute lunch invitations. But these suggestions are easy places to start once you’re committed to making more effective use of your time!

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(1) https://www.health.com/condition/adhd/12-reasons-to-stop-multitasking-now?slide=c12a3886-4ff2-4fbe-88fa-3216a321d642#c12a3886-4ff2-4fbe-88fa-3216a321d642

(2) https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/325492

February 24, 2020

A Crash Course in Cryptocurrency

A Crash Course in Cryptocurrency

“Cryptocurrency” was one of the trendiest words of the 2010s.

We probably all know at least one person who was planning to retire early by cashing out their bitcoins in the winter of 2017. But where do cryptocurrencies come from? What even is a cryptocurrency in the first place? And more importantly, is it just a flash-in-the-pan trend or will it permanently reshape how we think of wealth?

Cryptocurrency 101
First, it’s important to know a little about how cryptocurrencies work. They’re built around blockchains. A blockchain is essentially a complex digital record of every transaction made using a currency. The more the currency is used, the longer the blockchain gets. Think of it like a ledger that doesn’t record who makes a transaction but keeps track of how often a currency gets used and assigns a code to each trade. Multiple copies of the blockchain get stored and updated in servers around the world, meaning that no single government or institution regulates how the currency gets used.

Bitcoins and Blackmarkets
Simply put, cryptocurrencies are decentralized ways of paying for goods and services that are essentially impossible to track. Early demand for anonymous money came from exactly where you’d expect: criminals. For instance, the FBI seized 144,000 bitcoins (roughly $122 million) when they shut down the online underground marketplace Silk Road in 2013. But cryptocurrency soon picked up mainstream attention; excitement began to build that decentralized digital currency was the wave of the future and that governments would soon adopt them instead of paper money.

The Bitcoin Bubble
All of the hype resulted in a massive buying spree throughout 2017. Bitcoin saw its value skyrocket from around $1,000 at the beginning of the year to over $19,000 in December. That means that an investment of $10,000 in January would net almost $200,000 for Christmas! The bitcoin boom, however, turned out to be more of a bubble than a permanent revolution. By December 2018 it had lost 82% of its value (2). Cryptocurrencies haven’t vanished from the market (bitcoin itself has recovered some of its lost ground), but they’re too volatile to replace traditional currencies like the dollar or euro. We’ll have to settle for paper and pennies for the foreseeable future!

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(1) https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/silk-road.asp (2) https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2018-12-11/yep-bitcoin-was-a-bubble-and-it-popped

February 19, 2020

A Brief History of Stock Exchanges

A Brief History of Stock Exchanges

Stock markets didn’t exist four hundred years ago.

Wealth was highly concentrated in the hands of monarchs, lords, and elite merchants, and trade was risky at best. Raising money for an expedition (or war) meant either asking for a loan, collecting taxes, or both.

A Whole New World
But something changed for Europeans in the 1400s. The Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople (now Istanbul) and effectively cut off trade routes that had always brought in goods and big profits from China. Things that were previously thought impossible suddenly sounded like worthwhile possibilities. One thing led to another and before long a fellow named Christopher Columbus had introduced Europeans to a massive continent rich in resources. Major powers like Spain, Portugal, France, and England started to seriously invest in getting as much out of this “New World” as they could!

Disease, Famine, and Risk Reduction
“What does any of this have to do with trading stocks?” you might ask. Well, imagine that you’re living in 16th century Europe and you decide you’ve had it with all this groveling and servitude and poverty and want to make some cash. The New World is your best option to make it big; land is easy to come by and there are plenty of new resources like tobacco to grow and sell. There’s just one problem: it’s insanely risky. Between disease, famine, and bad weather, there’s a good chance you’ll either die or lose everything in the attempt. So what can you do?

Traders realized that they could reduce how much they risked on an expedition if they got multiple people to chip in. Everybody would get a portion of the profits if everything went well, and if not, any losses would get spread out. It didn’t take long for people to figure out that selling small portions or “shares” of trading voyages was a great way to raise cash that didn’t require levying taxes or stumbling on massive gold deposits.

The First Coporation
At first, shares were only good for a single voyage. But the Dutch East India Company changed all of that in 1602. The Dutch government decided they wanted to dominate trade with Asia, and they looked to the public for funding. Shares were priced so that most merchants could buy in, and the promise of government backing and continuing profits convinced hundreds to purchase the stock. It worked. The Dutch East India company became one of the first truly transnational corporations in history and essentially became its own state, flooding the Dutch people with valuable resources and prosperity.

Everyone took note of the Dutch model and decided to imitate it. Publicly traded companies started to pop up across Europe, with stock exchanges becoming a place where anyone with the means could buy and sell shares of different corporations. It was a huge step away from the older model of raising capital and created a new kind of institution, one that continues to dominate the world of business to this day.

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February 17, 2020

Habits of Successful People

Habits of Successful People

Successful people come from all types of backgrounds.

But did you know there are certain habits they tend to have in common? What’s better yet, they’re mostly practices that don’t require a huge budget to start doing. Here are three concrete ways that you can imitate the wealthy—starting today!

Wake up early (but also get enough sleep)
Let’s establish right away that most people shouldn’t wake up at four in the morning if you’re going to bed at midnight. Lack of sleep can exacerbate or cause dozens of health and mental issues ranging from obesity to depression (1). That’s the exact opposite of what rising with the sun is supposed to do!

The primary perk of going to bed early and waking up early is that it helps give you control of your day. You’re not simply rolling out of bed forty-five minutes before work and coming home too tired to do anything useful. Instead, you get to devote your most productive hours to something that you care about, whether that’s meditating, working on a passion project, or exercising. Speaking of which…

Exercise
Exercise is something that the successful tend to prioritize. One survey found that 76 percent of the wealthy devoted 30 minutes or more a day to some kind of aerobic exercise (2). It seems obvious, but working out doesn’t just improve physical health; it can help ward off depression and increase mental sharpness (3). It’s no wonder so many successful people make time to exercise.

Read
Almost 9 out of 10 wealthy people surveyed said they devote thirty minutes a day to reading. Why? It turns out that it can improve mental awareness and helps keep your brain fine-tuned (4). But reading can also be a valuable way of expanding your perspective, learning new ideas, and drawing inspiration from unexpected places.

Some of these habits might seem intimidating. Switching your bedtime back three hours so you can wake up before sunrise is a big commitment, as is working out consistently or reading books if you’re just used to scanning social media. Try starting off small. Get out of bed thirty minutes earlier than usual for a week and see if that makes a difference. One day a week at the gym is much better than zero, and reading a worthwhile article (like this one!) might pique your appetite for more. Whatever your baby step is, keep expanding on it until you’re an early rising, iron-pumping, and well-read machine!

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  1. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-reasons-why-good-sleep-is-important
  2. https://www.cnbc.com/2017/03/28/9-habits-of-highly-successful-people.html
  3. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-benefits-of-exercise#section4
  4. https://www.rd.com/health/wellness/benefits-of-reading/

February 12, 2020

What's a Recession?

What's a Recession?

Most of us would probably be apprehensive about another recession.

The Great Recession caused financial devastation for millions of people across the globe. But what exactly is a recession? How do we know if we’re in one? How could it affect you and your family? Here’s a quick rundown.

So what exactly is a recession?
The quick answer is that a recession is a negative GDP growth rate for two back-to-back quarters or longer (1). But reality can be a bit more complicated than that. There’s actually an organization that decides when the country is in a recession. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) is composed of commissioners who dig through monthly data and officially declare when a downturn begins.

There’s also a difference between a recession and a depression. A recession typically lasts between 6 to 16 months (the Great Recession was an exception and pushed 18 months). The Great Depression, by contrast, lasted a solid decade and witnessed unemployment rates above 25% (2). Fortunately, depressions are rare: there’s only been one since 1854, while there have been 33 recessions during the same time (3).

What happens during a recession
The NBER monitors five recession indicators. The first and most important is inflation-adjusted GDP. A consistent quarterly decline in GDP growth is a good sign that a recession has started or is on the horizon. Then this gets supplemented by other numbers. A falling monthly GDP, declining real income, increasing unemployment, weak manufacturing and retail sales all point to a recession.

How could a recession affect you?
The bottom line is that a weak economy affects everyone. Business slows down and layoffs can occur. People who keep their jobs may get spooked by seeing coworkers and friends lose their jobs, and then they may start cutting back on spending. This can start a vicious cycle which can lead to lower profits for businesses and possibly more layoffs. The government may increase spending and lower interest rates in order to help stop the cycle and stabilize the economy.

In the short term, that means it might be harder to find a job if you’re unemployed or just out of school and that your cost of living skyrockets. But it can also affect your major investments; the value of your home or your retirement savings could all face major setbacks.

Recessions can be distressing. They’re hard to see coming and they can potentially impact your financial future. That’s why it’s so important to start preparing for any downturns today. Schedule a call with a financial professional to discuss strategies to help protect your future!

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  1. https://www.thebalance.com/what-is-a-recession-3306019
  2. https://www.thebalance.com/what-is-a-recession-3306019
  3. https://www.thebalance.com/recession-vs-depression-definition-causes-and-stats-3306048

February 10, 2020

Is Your Employer-Provided Life Insurance Enough?

Is Your Employer-Provided Life Insurance Enough?

Just because your company provides you with free life insurance coverage doesn’t mean you’re fully protected.

While it certainly doesn’t hurt to have, it may not be enough to provide for your family in the event of a tragedy.

For the first time ever, more Americans have employer-provided life insurance (108 million) than have individual life insurance coverage (102 million), according to a new LIMRA study. This is important especially during Life Insurance Awareness month to make sure you’re aware that typically life insurance through your job is not portable. Which means you can’t take it with you. Everyone should make sure they have individually owned insurance to protect their family just in case they switch jobs or lose their job or potentially start your own company.

How employer-provided life insurance works.
A life insurance policy from your employer is typically a group plan that’s offered to you and your co-workers. Your policy is held by the company, and they’ll often pay most if not all the premium costs. The amount of insurance you’ll receive varies, but it’s normally one to two times your annual salary.

Problems with employer-provided life insurance.
A $50,000 payout, for example, may seem like a lot. But you may notice a problem when you stop thinking in terms of numbers on paper and look at how long the insurance money would last. You go from $50,000 per year to just $50,000, period! A life insurance benefit is essentially buying your family time to grieve and plan for their future in your absence. That might mean looking for new jobs, adjusting to a single-income lifestyle, taking out student loans, and so on.

If your employer-provided policy just matches your annual salary, your loved ones would only be covered for a single year as they go through the process of readjustment (assuming their spending habits don’t change and they don’t encounter any emergencies). In fact, 5 to 10 times your annual income is considered a reasonable amount of insurance for just this reason; it gives your loved ones plenty of time to figure things out.

Another problem with an employer-provided life insurance policy is that it depends on your employment status. If you leave that job (voluntarily or involuntarily), what might happen to your family if they are left unprotected? While employer-provided life insurance is definitely a perk, it often might not be enough.

Alternatives to employer-provided life insurance.
That’s why considering an individual plan is so important. It may not be provided by your employer, but you’ll get what you pay for – a safety net for the ones you love and the time they’ll need to recover… regardless of where you’re working.

Have questions? Feel free to contact me! I would love to help you prepare your insurance strategy and help protect your family’s future.

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February 5, 2020

Student Loans: avoid them or use them the smart way?

Student Loans: avoid them or use them the smart way?

Going to college can be a great way to invest in your future and get the training and education you need to thrive in the modern job market.

But we’ve all heard the horror stories of students saddled with thousands in loans that they struggle to pay back, sometimes for years. Student loan debt is often the most pressing financial issue for college students and recent grads.

So how do you take advantage of the benefits of a college education without burdening your future with years of debt? Here are some tips to help you avoid high student loan payments and pay your student debt off more quickly after graduation.

Work through school
The days of working a minimum wage job to put yourself through school seem to be over. However, working enough to cover at least some of your books and living expenses may make a huge dent in the amount of money you’ll have to borrow to graduate.

Work-study programs on campus are often good options, as they are willing to work around your class schedules. Off-campus part-time jobs can be a good option as well, and may offer better pay.

Live as cheaply as possible
Everyone knows the cliché of the broke college student existing on nothing but ramen noodles. While not many people would recommend trying to live on nutritionless soup every day, you should be able to find ways to cut your cost of living to reduce the amount of money you need to borrow to sustain your lifestyle.

Try living off campus with family or roommates and packing sandwiches instead of paying expensive meal tickets and dorm fees. Bike, walk, or take public transportation to avoid parking. Take advantage of free on-campus healthcare, counseling, free food events, free entertainment, and more so you can spend as little as possible on living campus life.

It’s okay to go out and have fun sometimes, but don’t borrow from your future in order to live beyond your means now.

Try to avoid unsubsidized loans
Subsidized loans are offered by the Department of Education at lower interest than many private bank loans, and they do not begin accruing interest until after you graduate. Take advantage of these loans first and try to avoid the unsubsidized private loans which begin accruing interest immediately and often have a higher rate. (1)

Be mindful of your future payments
It can be tempting to expect that you’ll have a great job earning plenty of money and time to pay back the student loans you’ve accumulated. But each time you take out a loan, you make your future payments higher and your payback time longer. Be sure to look at the numbers of how much your payment will be every time you up your loan amounts. Can you realistically envision yourself being able to pay that amount every month in just a few years? If not, it may be time to rethink the student loans you’re racking up, and possibly even reconsider your degree or career plan.

Go to trade school, earn an apprenticeship, or work in your chosen field before you commit to a college degree in that field
It’s not a popular topic with many high school guidance counselors, but learning a trade and finding a well-paying job without a degree is not only possible but a great option. Try finding an internship or trade school where you could get training for much less money than a university.

Consider community colleges and state schools
It’s a common misconception that private, ivy league, “big name” colleges are far superior to state schools and automatically the better option. However, state schools can often have great programs for far less money. Also, if you choose a local school, you can live close to your family support system while working through college. It’s possible to have a very successful career with a college degree from a state school, and be more financially stable in your future than someone struggling to pay off loans from an expensive private college.

Likewise, an associate’s degree from a community college can save money toward your bachelor’s degree, allowing you to pay far less than you would even to a state school. Just make sure your degree and credits will transfer to the university of your choice.

Find a graduate program that pays YOU
If you choose to pursue a Masters or Doctorate degree, try to find a program with a teaching assistant position, fellowship, or some other option for getting reduced tuition or getting paid to get the work experience you need.

Resist the urge to move up in lifestyle when you graduate
When you scrimp your way through school, it’s tempting when you get your first degree-related job to celebrate by loosening the reins on your frugal ways and start living it up as a young professional.

It’s great to reward yourself, and you need to adapt to your new financial situation (you may need a new wardrobe or a better car), but resist going too crazy with all the “extra” money a new job in your field can make you feel like you have. You should still live on a budget and manage your money carefully to pay off your student loans as soon as possible so you’re better prepared to move into the next phase of life unencumbered by a mountain of debt. Make paying back debt a priority, and pay extra when you’re able.

Education can be expensive and in some cases impossible to get without loans. But with frugality and an eye toward the future, you’ll be better prepared to get the education you need to succeed in life without being encumbered by debt for years. The high cost of education combined with the high cost of living can make a college education more of a financial burden for today’s students than ever before. By thinking outside the box and carefully prioritizing your educational goals—balanced with your finances—you can pursue your dream degree and have a better chance at a stable financial future.

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  1. https://studentaid.gov/understand-aid/types/loans/subsidized-unsubsidized#subsidized-vs-unsubsidized

February 3, 2020

Begin Your Budget With 5 Easy Steps

Begin Your Budget With 5 Easy Steps

A budget is a powerful tool.

No matter how big or small, it gives you the insight to track your money and plan your future. So here’s a beginner’s guide to kick-start your budget and help take control of your paycheck!

Establish simple objectives
Come up with at least one simple goal for your budget. It could be anything from saving for retirement to buying a car to paying down student debt. Establishing an objective gives you a goal to shoot for, and helps motivate you to stick to the plan.

Figure out how much you make
Now it’s time to figure out how much money you actually make. This might be as easy as looking at your past few paychecks. However, don’t forget to include things like your side hustle, rent from properties, or cash from your online store. Try averaging your total income from the past six months and use that as your starting point for your budget.

Figure out how much you spend
Start by splitting your spending into essential (non-discretionary) and unessential (discretionary) spending categories. The first category should cover things like rent, groceries, utilities, and debt payments. Unessential spending would be eating at restaurants, seeing a movie, hobbies, and sporting events.

How much is leftover?
Now subtract your total spending from your income. A positive number means you’re making more than you’re spending, giving you a foundation for saving and eventually building wealth. You still might need to cut back in a few areas to meet your goals, but it’s at least a good start.

If you come up negative, you’ll need to slash your spending. Start with your unessential spending and see where you can dial back. If things aren’t looking good, you may need to consider looking for a lower rent apartment, renegotiating loans, or picking up a side hustle.

Be consistent!
The worst thing you can do is start a budget and then abandon it. Make no mistake, seeing some out-of-whack numbers on a spreadsheet can be discouraging. But sticking to a budget is key to achieving your goals. Make a habit of reviewing your budget regularly and checking your progress. That alone might be enough motivation to keep it up!

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