Short post

Hello all,

I’m feeling uninspired this week. So I just wanted to leave you with a couple thoughts: 

> Frugality doesn’t necessarily mean cheap, it means getting the greatest value out of your dollar. Somehow, I had never heard this thought before, but it’s brilliant. And anyway, you don’t want to just go around buying cheap stuff all of the time: There’s a reason it’s cheap. It’s going to fall apart or just generally not be as good a quality as you need, whatever that thing is. I’m going to focus more in the next few months on finding ways to get quality products for not a whole lot of money. Remember, we may all be stretched thin, monetarily speaking, but we can still live a good life.

> If you have a chronic illness, or if you don’t, either way, you need to read the Do I Look Sick? blog. Rachel is super dedicated to getting her message out there: People with invisible illnesses are all around us, and their illnesses shouldn’t have to be taboo. In fact, they should be respected.

That’s it and that’s all, folks! I’ll brain storm for next week so I’m not caught unprepared.

Advertisements

Used car tips from a pro

So I just started my internship at neighborsgo (the community news operation of the Dallas Morning News, as we always say) and so I got somewhat caught up in that last week and so I didn’t post. NEVER FEAR. I want to work on posting a lot more often.

Anyway, my last post was about shopping for used cars, but I’m not the pro. The guy I go to to tell me what a good deal is and when I’m getting gypped is Alan Johnson. He also has another name – Alan the Answer Man, or Double A. You don’t need to know his credentials, besides the fact that he is the Answer Man. (OK, he works on cars a lot.)

Here are a few of his tips:

>”A good body shop can disguise” when a car has been in an accident. All of those privately owned, Mom n’ Pop car dealerships aren’t the best places to shop. “A reputable dealer won’t sell you something like that. Used lots buy auctioned cars. A reputable lot will let you know when (a car) has damage. Reputable dealers send the crap cars to auction.”

> So if the big, good car dealers aren’t gypping you, how do they make their money? “Big dealers make their money on bank interest and you coming in to get it serviced,” Double A says.

> Wait, can’t you just find out what happened to the car through Carfax? “Carfax helps you, but you don’t know 100 percent.” Even if a car has never been in an accident, you want to be very wary if the car has over 80,000 miles. Don’t bother at all if it has over 100,000.

>”If you open up the hood and it smells like antifreeze, there’s a leak,” Double A says. He also warns to keep an eye out for “Tape, cracked belts, a cracked hose.”

> If you bring a pro like the Answer Man with you, he will also be able to tell you if the car has been repainted, or if a bumper or door has been replaced. One way that you can tell is by looking at the bolts that hold those parts in place. “Sometimes they don’t quite line up.” Look for if there’s a circle around a bolt. If there is, that’s where an old bolt used to be, meaning the part was replaced, and the car has had damage.

> “They key is, they’re in it to make money.” That may seem obvious to you, but Double A continues that though you know the car company won’t go any lower than the price they bought it for, you can still negotiate on things like free oil, tires, tire rotation, and other tune-ups. Double A hasn’t paid for an oil change in 20 years.

> Side tip: Once you have your car, be conscious of where you park it. More specifically, maybe don’t go for the closest spot in the supermarket parking lot. “Who else parks close? Fat people. They park close and open their door wide and give you door dings.” His words, not mine.

Shopping for a used car

First of all, for those of you wondering if my mother was shocked and/or embarrassed by me blogging about all of her risky savings habits last week, nope. She thought it was hilarious. It would take a lot more than that to embarrass MY mom.

This week I’ve been helping my brother shop for his first car. I got my first car two years ago, so I felt somewhat responsible for helping my brother with the process. We’ve been going to dealerships all week with little success, and every time he finds a car online he likes, it’s sold by the time we get there. But he’s determined to get a steal like I did – some hard-nosed negotiating got the price of my 2007 Ford Focus down by several thousand dollars.

I love that car so much.

Now, if you’ve gotten your first car yet, you know that once anyone hears that you’re in the market for a used car, everybody knows somebody who can help you, whether they’re selling a new car or they know “so much about cars” that you simply must consult their expertise. What you end up with is a long list of people to call and a bunch of contrary advice about which car to get and not get and so on.

So my first piece of advice: PICK ONE PERSON to listen to that you really think you can trust and use their advice to evaluate the cars you look at. Choose someone who is going to get you a car that lasts, not a ‘hot looking car’.

Think you can trust the internet? Prepare to be exhausted by reading reviews. Only trust reviews by professionals – if you’re looking at reviews by your average Joe, you can find a ton of negative reviews about almost any car. People like to complain online, don’t rely on them.

But you also have to do your own research. Use Kelley Blue Book to determine what a fair price for a certain car is. Use Carfax to find out if a particular car has been in an accident and how many owners it has had.

Once you get on the lot and you get to a car IN YOUR PRICE RANGE, look it over thoroughly with your resident expert at your side. (Hopefully they already know what to look for.) Look under the hood, in the trunk, at the doors, by the tires, at the amount of space in the back seat, how well the AC works, what the engine sounds like when it starts up, etc. If the interior isn’t clean or there are little scratches on the paint, the dealership will probably fix those for you if you buy the car, but make sure to remark that you expect them to. Don’t let your expert do all of the inspecting – check everything out yourself, as well. You might learn something. The last part of the inspecting process is taking it out for a drive and seeing how it handles.

Something else to consider: Is this car going to bring your insurance rates up? My brother was looking at a two-door Scion, but in the end we decided against it because it would almost double his insurance to have a two-door.

If you really love the car, it’s time to start negotiating. Go low with your first offer. The dealer will look skeptical and say “We really can’t go that low” and try to kill the idea. Make it sound like you might look somewhere else. (Hint: The price you see online is much closer to their actual ‘lowest possible price’. Remember, they at least have to profit on it.) Hmm and haw about not having that in your budget, and then try saying to your expert, “well, we saw this other car at this other dealership, we can try back there again.” The car dealer who is attending to you will then say “well let me see what I can do” and run back into the dealership to buy time and “talk to the higher ups”. He’ll come back either with a lower price or offer to do some “nice detailing” on it.

If the offer still isn’t low enough, say that you’re going to head home and think about it. The dealer will warn you that this car will go fast, and they aren’t lying, but don’t freak out too much. Either come back later in the day, or call back the next day, at the latest. Ask if they now have a better offer for you.

Thrift store shopping with my mom

When it comes to smart monetary practices, I may have a finance blog, but I am a saver-in-training. Especially compared to my mom.

It was from her that I learned to always order water instead of soda at restaurants and many other wise savings practices, but she has many money-saving strategies that she does on the regular that I am afraid to even try. Hiding snacks in her purse rather than buy food at the movies. Making an outing of going to the grocery store that has all of the free samples and making the rounds. Sneaking onto beaches in Cozumel rather than paying. Regifting things to me and my siblings on Christmas – that we already owned. Dumpster diving.

Thrift store shopping.

Image

That’s a designer pair of pants, you know. But now, it costs less than $10! Don’t worry, I didn’t buy those. My fashion sense isn’t quite that ‘fierce’. But this is just to give you an idea of the awesome stuff I got to look through while shopping for office-appropriate attire with my mom. (I also know a lot of really trendy friends of mine who make a habit of thrift store shopping and find really cute stuff. I don’t know how you guys do it, there’s so much stuff from the 90s in those stores.)

Make no mistake, I admire her devout (and occasionally risky) savings practices, but I haven’t got the stomach, the patience or the resourcefulness for half of them. And maybe, in part, it’s just that I’m too high maintenance to live a lifestyle that requires me to mix water, lemons and Splenda in order to not pay for real lemonade at restaurants. I often think, during one of those exasperating Mom-moments, that there is a line between being frugal and being tacky.

But once I told myself to just shut up and actually look at the clothes, I found a lot of cute, office-appropriate things while thrift shopping with mom, and most of the items were less than $6. So kudos, Mom. I have a lot to learn.

Emergency budgeting: For when you’re all out of cash

Having just gone through the process of graduating, moving out of my apartment, getting someone to sublease my apartment and driving back down to Dallas, I find myself with considerably less in my savings account than I typically have. A sudden drop in funds is what happens whenever you go through a life change (heck, happens to me every time I would go on Christmas break). In addition, as soon as I got back, my Dallas friends wanted to go out and spend money on food and drink and good times. Hold your horses, guys. I have to draw up a new budget.

Guidelines for creating your emergency transition budget:

> Keep in mind how long it is going to be until you can get a solid flow of cash coming in again. Now, how much money will you have available to you until then? Check the money in your account and count the days until you have income.

> When you’re in a situation like I am and you’re refusing to return to microwave dinners but you can’t quite afford to buy real dinners yet, buy lunch food type stuff. Buy lunch meat, bread, eggs, fruit, bacon – things that you can make lots of meals out of fairly cheaply. If you buy the right things, you will have enough to create variety in your meals so that you won’t get bored.

> Let your friends know that you can’t go crazy with the spending right now. Tell them that if they want to go out to lunch, then you’ll have to go home for dinner and then meet them after. Tell them that if they want to hit up the mall, you’ll come with them, but you’re just window shopping. Good friends are always supportive of this. Also, see some of my previous posts on how to save money on going out and getting drinks.

> For those of you now living on your own, be very aware of how to save on utilities. I’ve done previous posts on this. I’m not living on my own for the next several months, but I’m already practicing by speeding up my showers and not opening windows when the A/C is on.

Goals for this summer

Now that I’m graduating, I think it would be a good idea for me to set some financial goals for myself. A lot of things are changing, including my income and the things that I need to be saving for.

1. Save money for college loans.
How do I plan to accomplish this one? Well, for three months, I’ll be living with my mom and interning in Dallas, so that will save me a lot in rent, as well as in food. And I won’t have as much time for social activities to suck up my savings.

2. Work out – without spending money.
I can’t afford to join a gym, but I’m making it my goal to get a little bit more toned. I’ll have to make myself work out for a few minutes each day by running and doing weights with milk jugs or something.

3. Figure out my job situation.
There are several paths that I could go down, but I NEED A JOB. I’m going to focus as much as I can on the job search.

4. Make some more cheap cooking recipes.
I don’t have a natural instinct when it comes to cooking, but I’m working on it. I’m determined to not be a microwave-food-mom down the road – I have to get good at cooking!

Those are my main money goals! I’m mainly writing them down so that I don’t forget. Have a good summer, everyone! I’ll start blogging again soon!

The end of one chapter, the beginning of another

A week and a half from now, I’ll be donning my cap and gown, standing in line to walk across a stage and receive a diploma which signifies the successful completion of my college education. In the months that follow, I’ll be etching out a little place for myself in the real world, as a responsible adult. Isn’t that crazy??? I hate to default to improper and immature use of punctuation, but it just blows my mind how drastically my life is about to change.

I’m ready.

But as for this blog, I do not want it to disappear. Rather, I want it to grow and adapt with me. So, starting a few weeks from now, I’ll be changing the title and blogging about finance from the perspective of a new grad and young professional. I really hope that my audience follows me. It’s going to be an adventure!

And to the readers of my blog who have voiced their support to me, both in the comments section and in person, thank you so much for making me feel that my perspective is worth while.

–Rachel

 

 

RJInnovation Week: Optimize your analytics and social media

So I digress from my usual financial blog post this week to talk to you about the new frontiers of communication being explored at RJInnovation Week. I decided to attend a lecture called ‘Optimize your analytics and social media’, because I am interested in both of these things. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is trying to get more web traffic and more audience loyalty by utilizing analytics information, as well as increasing their presence on social media. A team from the MU J-school helped them out, and these are some of the strategies they’ve implemented (or recommendations they’re making) based on market research:

> The website was reorganized to make it less chaotic and easier to find things. Less frustration for the user equals more revenue.

> The St. Louis Post-Dispatch sends out a daily email newsletter about the most important news to the users that sign up for it. During market research, the MU team discovered that if those emails had subject lines with 35 characters or less, they were twice as likely to be clicked on. The team recommended that the newsletters be cleaned up a little and have some of the ‘related links’ noise eliminated.

> Nearly half of adults are coming to news sites through mobile these days. That’s huge. News sites need to be more conscious of their presence on mobile, and if they have a mobile app, they have to be conscious of its usability.

> The paper had a pretty good presence on Facebook, but there are many ways to use Facebook to engage users. For instance, having a ‘Today’s Cover’ section shows people what the print cover looks like. Some papers inspire conversation and debate on their stories, some are mainly occupied with using Facebook as a vehicle to get traffic to their page, and some of them even post national news on Facebook to start conversations. The Kansas City Star posts a lot of multimedia content on Facebook. However, ‘likes’ on Facebook don’t necessarily translate to traffic on a news site.

> Twitter is a great way to get out breaking news. The team recommended that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch put a twitter feed directly onto their webpage so you can see their latest tweets from their own site. Twitter lists are also a useful tool for separating out types of accounts to follow.

> Pinterest is something that I personally have not yet jumped on board with yet, but after their presentation, I was convinced that I should get an account. The Wall Street Journal, in particular, has done some really cool things with their pin boards – They posted pictures of old front pages, dating back decades, then they used another pin board to post pictures of what users do when they get up in the morning. The Post-Dispatch currently uses one board to show the history of St. Louis, but there are a lot of other cool things the team suggested that they could do with Pinterest – Create a board for going green, a board for food, a board for tourism, fitness, weddings – there’s tons of stuff they could do.

> The Post-Dispatch is debating about getting a pay wall. The strategy that they will likely implement is to put up a ‘soft’ pay wall, so that users can see a certain number of stories per month, and just gradually bring down the number of stories that users can see per month.

> They had a redesign of their analytics report, which looked awesome, and inspired me. They picked four ‘most important’ metrics and presented them visually in pie charts or graphs, and then they had a second page for top headlines. It was easy to understand, and visually appealing.

 

A TED lecture by LearnVest: Five Financial Rules to Live By

Hey guys, I just quick wanted to share with you this awesome lecture by LearnVest CEO Alexa von Tobel.

Image

She presents five basic financial rules to abide by, no matter your financial situation:

1. Live with a budget

2. Prioritize debt repayment

3. Build and maintain an emergency savings fund

4. Negotiate your salary

5. Start saving for retirement now

I’m sorry that this isn’t much of a post, but I promise, it’s worth your time to read that article and watch the video. Alexa says a lot of the things that I’ve said in my blog, but she ties it all together a lot more nicely. And she also presents some staggering facts about the financial situation that most Americans are in. It is the hope of the author of this blog that my readers will be in the minority of people who choose to not only educate themselves about finance, but use that knowledge to create a healthy financial future for themselves. When it comes to getting smart about money, you can never start too early.