Money Understanding And Generosity From A 3-Year Old

Every now and then you wonder if the stuff you’re trying to teach your kids is actually getting through.  A lot of times you see progress, but a lot of times you don’t and you wonder if you are missing the mark on certain things.

The other day, a pretty cool thing happened.  Probably the coolest thing that happened all week, and it validated, at least for an instant, that we’re hitting home on a couple of things.

Cider and Donuts Time

mb-2014-10ciderWe’ve had a nice late October warm spell recently.  Here in Michigan, that generally means temps around the 60’s and maybe even 70.  The past weekend was nice, as was Monday, so we decided to hit the local cider mill for apple cider and donuts.  This cider mill has been around for over 150 years, so they know what they’re doing!

We got everybody gathered up and were heading out to the car, when my 3-year old daughter came out of the house after having put her shoes on (and on the right feet this time, yay!) and she had a dollar bill in her hand.  We had a family Halloween party last Friday and each of the kids ended up with a few dollars as part of their treat bags.

I told her that she should go put her money back in the house so that she wouldn’t lose it, and she told me “No.  I want to pay!”  I asked her to repeat herself, and she confirmed that she wanted to pay for cider and donuts!

That was so cool.

The whole way to the cider mill, she kept a hold of her dollar, and kept it as we stood in line. As we got to the register and ordered, she put her dollar up on.  She wanted to pay!

(For the record, we snuck the dollar back off the counter and will be putting it back in her piggy bank).

That showed me that she’s learning two key lessons:

  • Generosity – She knows that is her money and she was willing to give it up for something fun for our family.  That’s a great display of generosity and kindness that is often not seen with children that young.  Both of our kids have big hearts and it’s always a nice reminder when you see it on display like this.
  • Money – We talk through basic concepts about money, that I go to work to earn money, that you need money to pay for things, and that different types of money hold different values, and that things cost different amounts.  To see that she’s grasping the fact that in order for us to get cider and donuts, we would have to spend money, that was a great feeling as a parent, and it shows we’re on target.  Now we just need to keep it that way.

Readers, how have your little ones surprised you when it comes to money or life lessons?

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Business Owners Use Technology to Grow

As in almost every aspect of daily living, technology has become an integral part of retail for both the consumer and the business owner. Technology comes with a lot of advantages on both sides as well. Consumers can find precisely the products for which they are searching, compare prices, and make purchases from stores that are not within a comfortable driving distance. Businesses can reach more potential customers and get feedback to discover what works and what does not. Marketing has changed from the standard commercial to crafting a website that will be found through the most popular search engines. Technology is also helping businesses that see the majority of sales offline grow as well. The integration of e-commerce and point-of-sale (POS) transactions in a single store system has contributed to the success and growth of many small businesses, as well as plenty of larger ones.

Benefits of a Cloud-based POS System

Many online businesses are opening brick-and-mortar store locations to meet consumer demand. Shoppers are looking for more than the standard national chain brands. They want to see unique items in-person, and to touch them and make a connection, before making a purchase. POS software puts everything the savvy business owner needs in a single program. Systems like Shopify give business owners the chance to create an eye-catching online store that doubles as a POS system for physical store transactions. Users can set up a website and add real-time product inventory. Whether an item sells online or in the store, information is synchronized automatically to provide the most up-to-date data.

Hardware is straightforward and easy to use. An iPad serves as the cash register screen, and credit cards are swiped through a plug-and-play card reader in the audio jack. For cash transactions, a cash drawer can be opened through the tablet as well. Receipts are sent wirelessly to the printer. This comprehensive system includes everything a traditional cash register does, without the added hassle. It also gives shoppers peace of mind that their private information is secure.

Other features provide even better customer service solutions. Receipts can be sent via email when shoppers would prefer to avoid a printed version. Analytics keep detailed records of pertinent information such as e-commerce page views, product inventory, and sales history. According to Shopify Vice President of Product Adam McNamara, “The future of retail is all about consumer choice. Consumers want to buy what they want, where, when, and how they want it. They might want to buy in-store and have it shipped to them. They might want to buy online and pick it up in store. Retailers need to be ready to tailor their retail experience around the unique needs and wishes of consumers.”

It is this flexibility that helps successful businesses adapt and move forward.

Real Businesses Find Success

Many businesses have seen measurable growth in a short period of time when using technology to offer the best of both worlds to customers. Dylan Clifton, owner of Perception Apparel, has been running his business for only a few short years. Like most startups, he tried to limit expenses by handling store design and marketing himself. He entered the Huffington Post’s Build a Business Competition and found instantly that the entire process became easier. Perception Apparel immediately took off to the degree that Clifton intends to open a physical location eventually.

“My sales have more than doubled in the first month, and my social media efforts are growing at an exponential rate. I am now looking into expanding my shirts into brick-and-mortar locations. I have never been more confident about the success of my business,” says Clifton.

Other businesses have found similar success and credit goes to the functionality of being able to use the same software for both online and in-store transactions. Daymon John, founder of FUBU and star of ABC’s Shark Tank reality television program, hits the nail on the head about why this is such a successful model. “With this easy to use ecommerce solution, entrepreneurs save time and money, so they can focus on other aspects of their business.”

This is what most business owners want, to focus on what motivated them to start a business in the first place. Most entrepreneurs are creators. Although designing a website can be a creative expression, when all is said and done, most want a product that is easy to maintain on a day-to-day basis.

This idea was expressed by Amanda Beaubien, owner of Amanda May Lingerie. “It helps me focus on the important thing: my clients. With the Shopify POS iPad app, I have all my stock at my fingertips, and I can take orders from anywhere. This is what retail looks like in the 21st century.”

This is the modern face of retail. It is versatile and adaptable, no matter how technology continues to change.

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

When Technology Backs You Into A Corner

We have a whole house DVR, where wecan record or play up to six shows at one time.  It is all centered upon one device, a media gateway, which then communicates with media players positioned at each TV.

Problem 1: Single Point Of Failure

When we upgraded our service, I knew right away that we were introducting the mb-201402tabletproblem of a signle point of failure.  Prior to that each TV had it’s own signal box.  We had one DVR and several regular cable boxes.  If one failed, that TV was out of commission.  But, with a whole house DVR, if there’s a problem with the media gateway, the entire house has disruption in TV.

Problem 2: A Second Single Point of Failure

In our case, the media gateway actually provides another point of failure: internet.  Since the media gateway also serves as the cable modem, not only does your TV go out if there’s a media gateway problem, but the internet is also unavailable.  Before we upgraded, in addition to the various cable boxes I outlined above, we had a separate cable modem device strictly for the Internet.

Problem 3: Minor Problems Don’t Get Dealt With

If the media gateway were to completely fail, obviously we would call and get it serviced.  Actually, the most likely scenario would be that they would replace it.  This would mean that we’d lose all of our recordings which we haven’t watched (in addition to some we keep as they are favorites of the kids), but we would also have to re-load all of our settings, as they don’t have any way to transfer data or settings between devices.

I know, first world problems, right?

But what about minor problems?  We’ve been having a few small issues with our service.  There are times when the HD channels will no longer display, and we get a message that the CableCard is not authorized for service.  Simply put, this is basically the tuner in the box that communicates with the central office to authorize us using service, preventing someone from simply getting a box and plugging in to the wire.  Usually, restarting the media gateway resolves the problem, although there have been a couple of times where we’ve had to call in and have it reset on the computer.

We’ve also had issues where the box provides lousy service.  It will pause every few seconds, making watching or recording anything impossible.  For some reason this seems to present itself as a problem overnight.  This has actually kept it tolerable for us, because we can reset the device and fix it.  It would likely be a bigger problem if it happened during the day or evening, as it would then make any recorded TV unwatchable.

We also noticed that a feature that we used rarely, but was a nice one to have, has recently stopped working. With the media gateway, you can log in remotely and make changes to your device.  There are smartphone apps or you can do it through a website.  This way, if you’re away from home and realize you want to record something, you can make the settings from anywhere where you have an internet connection.  It’s pretty nifty, but the last few times I’ve tried to use this, it wouldn’t connect.

The problem is that because these are ‘minor’ issues, we just deal with them, simply because we don’t want to lose the recordings and the settings we have.

Backed Into A Corner

This made me think that technology often backs you into a corner.  In addition to cable, think about:

  • How often do people live with a cracked screen or malfunctioning phone because they’re not yet out of their contract or because data transfer would be too much of a hassle?  Technology in the last couple of years has largely taken this element out as ‘the cloud’ makes it easy to power down one smartphone and power up another, but a few years ago, it was pretty much impossible to have any type of pain free transition.
  • Laptops and computers provide the same challenges. People spend years accumulating their settings, their music and video files, their bookmarks, and building their folders full of spreadsheets and documents, and the idea of losing it or having to move it is enough to make many people keep using a computer that may be malfunctioning or cannot support current technology.

It’s kind of a paradox that the more complicated and awesome a technology is, that it can have the unintended consequence of tying us down to that technology as time goes on.  Luckily, part of the technological advances seem to be centered around this various obstacle, as there seems to be a bigger push toward seamless data sharing and device transition.  I would expect a lot of this is out of necessity, as the manufacturers want you to buy their stuff more often, so removing this is not only beneficial to you as a consumer, but to them.   Make sure you consider to whose benefit it is in favor of before making any upgrade decisions!

A Hopeful Update

In the case of our cable box, I made some changes that I’m hoping might alleviate our problems.  As I started jotting down notes, I did some checking not just on our box but also looking at anything that interacts with it. We have three things that ‘hook off’ of our box:

  1. A wireless signal booster – Our house is big enough that we had some dead spots along the edges, and one of the edge spots most frequently affected was our bedroom.  We added a signal booster which basically acts as a relay and provides coverage, specifically to the Apple and Windows devices.
  2. A second wireless router – We have a second wireless network running in the house.  Unfortunately, my Android devices would sometimes have issues with the wireless signal booster, so I keep the second wireless network alive.
  3. A Sprint Airrave – We have Sprint service and our house is on the fringe of having reliable service.  They provide a signal enhancer that uses your cable internet.  It’s basically a mini-tower in our house.

After doing some digging, I found that the third option, the Sprint Airrave, was a potential problem when hooking it directly to the media gateway.  People recommended plugging it in downstream if possible.  This was no problem for me as I wa able to plug it into our second wireless router.

So far, the Airrave works and the ability to remotely access our media gateway works, both immediately after making this change.  As it’s only been a couple of days, I don’t have enough information to see if it was also the potential source of the freezing up issues, but it’d be nice.

Readers, have you ever had a situation where cool technology is so involved that getting it upgraded or fixed provides more of a headache than it’s worth?  

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Farewell, Newspaper Subscription!

I’ve had a subscription to the Sunday paper for a number of years, and I finally admitted that I had held on for too long, and cancelled the subscription the other day.

I have had a subscription at various points, but it’s been about nine years consecutive but it’s time.

Reasons I Cancelled The Newspaper Subscription

  • Price – The price has continued to go up.  It goes up every six months, at which mb-2014-10paperspoint I can call and get it lowered, but the way it works is that your deal slowly erodes.  A customer service rep actually explained this to me.  Say they have ten tiers of pricing.  When you first sign up, you’ll get the best tier.  It’ll expire and you’ll pay full price.  When you call in, they’ll give you a discount, but only to the second tier.  The next call will get you to the third tier, etc.  After nine years or so as a subscriber, I was effectively out of tiers, and they will not drop you down on a current subscription, no matter who you talk to.
  • Quantity – The Internet has ravaged subscriptions.  This has led to layoffs, paper closings, and in our case, they only put out full editions of the paper three times per week.  This is in Detroit, a pretty major metropolitan area.  Although I always preferred to read the paper mostly on Sunday’s, the three day per week cut never sat well with me.
  • Quality – Along with the reduction in the days per week, the quality has gone down.  The Sunday paper always meant a lot to me.  I loved to just sit out on the deck (when it’s warm) or on the couch, and spend a couple of hours with a few cups of coffee reading the paper.  I realized that now I can go cover to cover in twenty minutes, barely half a cup of coffee for me.  The number and quality of articles and sections has just been cut too significantly.
  • Comics – I’m 40 but I still appreciate good funnies, and I realized that they’ve slowly stripped out my favorite comic strips one by one over the years.  Basically, all that’s left is Dilbert.
  • Incompetent delivery people – I’ve not been happy at all with the delivery people that I’ve had.  One guy got mad when I complained that there were some ads we weren’t getting, and put a stack of them on my driveway after the second time I complained.  The newest person doesn’t realize that without extra protection, one flimsy plastic bag will not keep rain or melting snow, so anytime I wake up and it’s wet, I can count on having to spread out the paper and wait for it to dry…
  • My personal tipping point – I read an article in a recent edition and it was maybe the dumbest thing I’ve ever read in a paper.  It was in the lifestyle session, so I get that there’s some leeway, but it was about how she went to the mall and was in a store with another customer that was loudly chewing gum, so she left, except she took about 800 words to go through all that.  It was honestly terrible.  I was reading some of the online comments to see if I was the only one bothered by the fact that about half of newspaper writers have lost their jobs over the past 15 years, yet she’s still gainfully employed, and someone said that unless you’re paying for it, you don’t have a right to complain.  So, I figured I’ll speak with my cancellation.  (For the record, pretty much every person commenting felt the same as me, that it was a terrible article).

Without the article just mentioned, I probably would have cancelled sooner rather than later.

I Still Plan On Getting The Sunday Paper

But here’s the thing, I’m probably going to still get the paper.  Here’s why and here’s how:

  • Why – The paper still has lots of coupons that we clip, and we generally save more than what we pay for the paper.
  • How – I’ll just get it at a gas station or drugstore or somewhere that sells the paper.  With our pricing, we were paying $3.50 per week.  The newsstand price is $2.  I realize you pay a convenience fee for having it delivered, but it was just too steep.  And, the fact is, there’s probably not a single Sunday save for one with a major snowstorm, that we aren’t out anyways.  How hard is it to stop in and grab a paper? For $1.50 per week, that just means less of a break-even point for our coupon clipping.

At some point, I figure they may try to entice me back in.  I would have to get back in at the bottom tier, and I figure you probably have to stay away for a few months before they’ll get you back into that tier.  Until then, it’s been a good ride, but getting off the subscription train has been long overdue.

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Starting An Emergency Fund Gives You The Most Bang For Your Buck

I was reading a well written post from Money Ning about emergency funds.  He was recommending an emergency fund over using the money to pay down debt.  I totally agreed with him, but as I read the article, I thought of it in a different perspective, and that my readers might agree or consider as food for thought.

The Biggest Value In Emergency Funds

The example that Ning used was if you had $1,000, would it make sense to start an mb-201312billscoinsemergency fund or to throw it at paying down debt?

Where it fell into place for me was when I started thinking about it in terms of where you would get the most bang for your buck.

Consider the following examples:

Credit Cards, Student Loan Debt, and an Auto Loan

The two most standard types of debt where I would think the person questioning ‘emergency fund’ vs. ‘debt’ would be student loan debt and credit card debt, and throw in a car payment as well.  Say you have someone with $40,000 in debt, and they’ve decided to tackle that debt and try to become debt free.

First, celebrate that.  If you’ve made that pledge, then good for you!

Second, let’s look at what would happen if you had $1,000 and used it to attack your debt.

In the example above, your $1,000 would pay off 2.5% of your outstanding balance.

This is nothing to sneeze at and probably represents a bigger chunk than would normally be paid with minimum payments.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but is it really enough bang for your buck.

Which leads us to the second option

Should I Start an Emergency Fund

If you have that $1,000 and stick it in the bank, you are obviously set to pay against an unexpected expense, at least for the first grand.

This is great.  Let’s think of a couple of examples of how this would play out:

  • You get in a car accident. Repairs are $6,000, but your insurance picks up everything after your deductible, which is $1,000.
  • You get sick or injured and have out of pocket health care costs of $1,500.
  • You get laid off from work for two months.  Your severance and unemployment can cover all of your expenses except for your $400 per month car payment, meaning you’d be short $800.

In each of those cases, using your $1,000 emergency fund would be completely appropriate.  These are all emergencies and precisely the types of situations where you’d use an emergency fund.

But, what kind of bang for the buck are you getting?

  • In your car accident, your emergency fund covers your entire deductible, so your emergency fund gives you 100% bang for the buck.
  • If you get sick or injured and have your bill, your emergency fund covers two-thirds, giving you a 67% bang for your buck.
  • In the event of your layoff, your shortfall works out to being fully funded, again giving you 100% bang for the buck, with the added bonus of having $200 left over that you don’t have to replenish once you get back to work.

In each of those cases, your bang for the buck far exceeds the 2.5% bang for the buck that you’d be getting by paying off debt.

The Math Works Almost All The Time

Obviously each person has different debt numbers and each emergency will offer different numbers, but the fact of the matter is that unless the cost of your emergency comes in at a greater cost than your outstanding debt, you’ll get greater bang for the buck by starting an emergency fund every single time.

Important Considerations For An Emergency Fund

Don’t take this too far.  Some people might ask why stop at $1,000 and build an even bigger emergency fund.  I think $1,000 is appropriate as it’s going to likely cover over half the costs of most short term emergencies.  Yes, there are situations where that might not be the case, but the goal of an emergency fund is not to protect you against every worst case scenario, but it’s designed to put you in front of a majority of situations which could provide short term financial catastrophe.

As you get lower in debt, you might bulk up your emergency fund in small increments, or you might also do so if emergencies might provide bigger risk, for example if you start a family.

In either case, the details in how you approach setting up and maintaining your emergency fund will vary, but the one constant I would recommend is that you should put a small emergency fund in place before paying extra on debt no matter what.

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Planning For Retirement

You can start planning for retirement at any age and take advantage of long-term investment options. Your investment-planning strategy can help you protect your assets and live comfortably during retirement. It begins by evaluating your current financial situation and setting future goals, including the steps to achieve these objectives. While planning for retirement, most people want to establish living arrangements with minimal debts and financial obligations. Because social security income is usually less than what an individual earned while working, it may not provide enough protection and funds to allow for the standard of living that many people desire to have during retirement. Additionally, the shifting economy may not afford every person an opportunity to build their social security income to a desired amount. Therefore, it is beneficial to consider investment choices that will lead to a better quality of living as you age. To gain more information about the investment opportunities that are available to you, speak to an insurance agent near you.
Among the matters that should be taken into consideration for retirement planning are health care and life insurance. Health care costs have risen over the last decade and may continue to increase as you approach retirement age. Some retirees may also be required to pay expensive premiums for health insurance and maintain costly prescriptions. For this reason, incorporating a plan for long-term medical care is a very important aspect with creating a sound retirement plan. Life insurance is a resource for individuals in retirement to borrow against the cash value of policy. If you purchase a life insurance policy early and make contributions to build the equity value, you can tap into these funds during retirement and still maintain the monthly premiums for the policy.
In addition to including the costs of health care and life insurance within your retirement plan, there are other investment strategies that can help you secure your financial future for yourself and your loved ones. Whether you have a 401(k) through an employer or you’re self-employed, a sure way to enjoy your retirement is to set up a 401(k) plan with your financial institution. There are several types of plans that are available through banking institutions. A financial advisor can discuss your options with you and help you get started with preparing for your desired retirement income.
This is a guest post.
Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.