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Get Your Starbucks Fix On…

Written by Tony Marrone

Starbucks is in trouble. You probably don’t realize they’re in trouble because every morning when you go in there the line raps around the inside of the store and you pay $4.79 for a small latte. However, based upon several factors, including increased frugality by Americans (yay!) and an influx of market competition from big names like McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks near global domination is retreating just a few steps.

I try to avoid Starbucks, but I walk by and its hissing espresso machines beckon me. As a Starbucks shopper, I’ve been generally happy, although several things have bothered me about the store, the beverages and the way the business is run.

Ed at Serious Eats has some great recommendations for revitalizing the Starbucks machine. I have a couple of my own, and invite you to share your suggestions in the Comments. After we put together a list of about 100 comments, I’m going to send them to Starbucks and see if we can’t get the readers some free Starbucks gear (Please leave original comments and e-mail me your comments as well, so I can keep in touch with any potential Starbucks response).

1. Turn on the Heat
For stores in the Northeast, the combination of the large windows and poor building insulation makes for a chilly place to study. Starbucks should take a page out of Panera’s book and consider installing electric fireplaces, or changing the heating scheme of their outfits.

2. Include Nutrition Information
I’m on a diet for the upcoming wedding, and as much as I love a Pumpkin Spice Latte I only know how bad it is for me because I researched online. They should provide a pamphlet with nutritional information for all their drinks.

3. Enough With the T-Mobile Hotspot
This is 2008, you need to offer free wi-fi like most other coffee shops.

4. Ditch the Sandwiches and Most of the Unhealthy Snacks
For such a globally and environmentally-conscious company, Starbucks has no problem helping people destroy their bodies. I know they’re delicious, but do you know how many calories are in that cookie you just got with your Chai? Starbucks would be better served offering fresh, healthy snacks and some soups then dishing out the gross breakfast sandwiches and tremendously good, yet tremendously bad-for-you snacks.

5. Lower the Music Volume
I know it serves as dissonance to prevent you from hearing nearby conversations, but the music should not also prevent you from thinking. I’d also like Starbucks to have some bands come and play (softly!) in the evenings and perhaps on weekends.

Let me know what else you think would help resurrect Starbucks.

180 Money Saving Tips to Turn Your Financial Life Around 180 Degrees

Written by Brett McKay

Here’s a list of 180 money saving tips that can turn your financial life around 180 degrees. These are things that I have learned while reading blogs or other books. I’ve tried to provide links to blog posts and other articles that elaborate more on the tip. This was a fun exercise. While I personally don’t practice every single tip listed, it was a good way to find out how I can do better on saving money.

Automobile/Transportation

  1. Wash and vacuum your car at home.
  2. Buy a used car. New cars drop significantly in value as soon as you drive off the lot.
  3. Get rid of your car. If you’re married, just have one.
  4. Keep your tires inflated at the correct pressure.
  5. Do not carry unneeded weight in your vehicle. Excess weight puts a heavier load on the engine.
  6. Accelerate slowly and smoothly. Avoid jackrabbit starts. Get into high gear as quickly as possible.
  7. Use your air conditioner only when absolutely necessary.
  8. Avoid unnecessary stopping and braking. Maintain a steady pace.
  9. Do not rest your foot on the clutch or brake pedal. This causes needless wear and poor fuel economy.
  10. Keep the front wheels in proper alignment. Improper alignment not only causes faster tire wear, but also puts an extra load on the engine.
  11. Rotate your tires regularly. Rotating tires slows down tire wear.
  12. Wash your car regularly. A dirty car can damage paint.
  13. Avoid heavy traffic. You’ll save on gas by not idling as much.
  14. Change your own motor oil.
  15. Observe speed limits. You’ll save money on gas and avoid costly speeding tickets and the resulting increase in insurance rates.
  16. Pay your auto insurance premiums annually instead of every six months. You’ll get a lower rate.
  17. Use the bus to get to school or work.
  18. If possible, ride your bike or walk to your destinations.
  19. Carpool with co-workers.

Clothing

  1. Find an image consultant in your town and ask if you can have the clothes their clients get rid of.
  2. Don’t buy into trends. Keep a wardrobe of classic pieces, so you don’t have to update your clothes every year.
  3. Buy clothes at a thrift store.
  4. Wear clothes more than once before washing them. You’ll reduce wear on your clothes and save energy by not washing so often.
  5. Shop at outlet stores.
  6. Avoid buying clothes that require drying cleaning.
  7. Cut dryer sheets in half to double the value of each box.
  8. Buy your winter clothes at the end of winter/beginning of spring. Buy summer clothing at the end of summer/beginning of fall.
  9. Shop at discount stores like TjMax and Ross.

Food

  1. Forage for food. Check out a book on local edible plants and start stocking up on them.
  2. Buy a water filter and make your own bottled water.
  3. Buy bread at the bread outlet store and freeze excess loaves.
  4. Make meals that are left over friendly, like soups and casseroles.
  5. Join a food co-op.
  6. Make dinners in a crock pot
  7. Buy in bulk.
  8. If you buy soda, buy 2 liter bottles instead of cans. It’s much cheaper per unit price.
  9. Have potluck dinners.
  10. When you eat out, share meals. Most restaurant meals are big enough for two people.
  11. If you don’t have someone to share it with, split the meal and half and put when half in a to-go box for next day’s lunch.
  12. Skip the soda when you go out to eat, and drink water.
  13. Quit smoking.
  14. Make your own coffee. Better yet, stop drinking coffee.
  15. Quit drinking alcohol.
  16. Quit drinking soda.
  17. Find cheaper café’s and restaurants to go to.
  18. Cook your own meals.
  19. Take a list when you go shopping and stick to it.
  20. Buy generic brand products at the supermarket.
  21. Bring your lunch to school or work instead of buying it.
  22. Grow your own vegetables.
  23. Use coupons and loyalty cards at grocery stores.
  24. Reduce meat consumption.
  25. Eat cereal instead of fast food. It’s cheaper and usually healthier.
  26. Have a late lunch/early dinner when going out to eat. You can save on lunch menu items.
  27. Buy cheap food coupons on eBay.
  28. Join clubs at school and take advantage of free food at meetings.
  29. Don’t buy prepackaged cheese or meat. Go to the deli and have them slice it for you. You can get more for you money.
  30. Collect vegetable scraps in a bag in the freezer. As soon as it’s full, make a soup out of them.
  31. Buy whole roasted chickens. When you have used all the meat, throw the bones into a soup.

Housing

  1. House sit. Older affluent couples often leave their house for months at a time for vacations and need someone to watch it while they’re gone. Not only can you get free rent, you might get some extra cash.
  2. Become live in help. Some older people need help around the house, someone to cook meals for them, or just someone to talk to. You can live rent free this way.
  3. Relocate to an area with a cheaper cost of living.
  4. Share an apartment. Better yet, move in with your in-laws.
  5. Make an extra mortgage payment each year. You can save money on interest.

Household

  1. Buy furniture at a consignment store.
  2. If you need a tool, see if you can borrow it from someone before you go out and buy it.
  3. Don’t throw away “dead” batteries. Remove them from your radio and use them in quartz clocks. These clocks take such a small amount of power that batteries too weak to run anything else may have enough power to run a clock for a while.
  4. Wash and reuse plastic bags.
  5. Clean your own carpets. You can rent carpet cleaning machines for about $10.

Health Care

  1. If you take a prescription medication on a regular basis, ask your doctor to write a three month prescription. Instead of paying three co-pays, you only pay one.
  2. Go to the dentist at your local dental school. Students need people to practice on. You can get all your dental needs fulfilled at a reduced cost.
  3. If your doctor gives you a prescription, ask if he has samples that he could give you.
  4. Use your local park’s playground as a workout station. Monkey bars can be used for pull-ups and leg lifts. The park will also have a trail where you can run.
  5. If you go to school, use the school’s gym. It’s free.
  6. Brush and floss your teeth. You’ll save on dental expenses.
  7. Eat right and exercise daily. You’ll reduce health costs.
  8. If you join a gym, find one that offers a month to month contract. That way if for some reason you stop going, you won’t be stuck with a 1 year contract that you have to pay for.

Beauty and Hygiene

  1. Use baking soda for toothpaste.
  2. Use baby shampoo for a makeup remover.
  3. Buy makeup online.
  4. Use makeup samples.
  5. Don’t throw out small pieces of bar soap. Wet the small piece and the new bar and stick them together.
  6. Add water to your shampoo to get more uses.
  7. Stop using shaving cream. Shaving cream’s purpose is just to keep your beard wet. You can maintain a wet beard in the shower.
  8. Cut your own hair.
  9. Simplify your beauty products. Do you really need 5 different types of body lotions?

Travel

  1. Pack your travel meals in advance.
  2. Buy snacks at the grocery store, not at roadside convenience stores.
  3. Plan trips where you have friends and family. You might be able to score free room and board.
  4. Go camping.
  5. Stay at a college dorm room when traveling. Many universities rent out dorm rooms at a decent price during the summer.
  6. Book your flights and cruises way in advance. You can get lower prices.
  7. Always negotiate hotel room prices. Hotel rooms are like highly perishable food: if they’re not used that day, they’re wasted. You can almost always get a better deal just by asking, but do it with a nice smile face-to-face when you check in, or with friendly calls direct to the hotels you’re considering. It won’t work if you just call national 800 numbers, because they can’t negotiate. If your flight is overbooked and the airline offers a voucher if you take a later flight, take it.
  8. When flying, bring your own snacks. Airport food is expensive.
  9. Avoid renting a car at the airport. You’ll find more competitive rates, plus avoid extra surcharges at car rental agencies away from the convenience of the airport.
  10. Time your stay for best hotel deals. Plan the timing of your stay according to the type of place you visit. Hotels in cities are usually cheaper on the weekends, when business travelers aren’t staying there, but hotels in resort areas or other places that are popular with leisure travelers are often cheaper during the week
  11. Tourist spots sell everything from film — to capture those special moments — to sunscreen, bottled water and aspirin for prolonging your fun, at a higher cost. Purchase these items before and save.
  12. Travel after peak season. This might not be an option if you have school-age children. But families with infants and toddlers can take advantage of discounted rates by traveling in the fall.
  13. Bring an empty water bottle with you to the airport. Bottled water at airports is expensive. While you can’t bring any liquids past security, you can bring an empty bottle. Put it in your carry on and fill it up as soon as you get past security.
  14. Stay in hostels when traveling overseas. While you do have to share a bathroom and a room, you can stay for as little as $5.
  15. If you need a quick get away with your significant other, spend a night in your local bed and breakfast.

Entertainment

  1. Buy an Entertainment book. The initial investment is about $20, but there’s hundreds of dollars in entertainment savings in it.
  2. Join Gamefly for cheap video game renting.
  3. Trade video games, DVD’s and books with your friends.
  4. Start a book or film club. After reading the book or watching the film, discuss it.
  5. Have a game night with friends.
  6. Attend movies at dollar theaters.
  7. Take advantage of your local university. Colleges often have free entertainment events.
  8. Join the library.
  9. Read magazines for free at bookstores.
  10. Check out DVD’s from the library, rather than renting them from the video store.
  11. Find cheaper hobbies like blogging or jogging.
  12. Go on a hike, take a walk in the park, or go to the beach. Some of the nicest things to do in life are totally free.
  13. See if your local zoos, museums, entertainment parks and water parks have annual passes. Often the annual passes may not cost more than the price of a couple of visits.
  14. Save money on movies by going to the matinée.
  15. Watch amateur sports. High school athletic competitions are cheap and can be just as exciting as the pros.

Banking and Investing

  1. Start an automatic savings plan with your bank.
  2. Use your credit card to make all purchases, but pay it off each month. That you’ll earn cash back or travel points.
  3. Invest in index funds. There are hardly any costs in purchasing and owning index funds.
  4. Open an online savings account. Most online accounts offer a 4% interest rate. That’s much better than the 1% you get at your current bank. E-mail me for an ING referral.
  5. Avoid ATM fees. Only withdraw money from machines approved by your bank. 7-11 doesn’t have a surcharge.
  6. Pay bills by direct debit. You save on postage and avoid the risk of paying late fees.
  7. If you use checks, don’t buy them from the bank. You can get a better deal with other printing companies.
  8. Don’t overdraft on your account. You’ll save yourself money on penalties.
  9. Invest with a cheap online brokerage company like Sharebuilder.

Children

  1. Buy gender neutral baby clothing so you can use them again with the next baby.
  2. Make your kids Halloween costumes. It’s cheaper and more fun.
  3. Buy your baby toys from the thrift store. Toys suck these days. Give your child the gift of old school toys that actually requires an imagination.
  4. Buy your baby’s and tot’s clothes from the thrift store. Your kid isn’t going to notice the difference between a thrift store onezy and a Gap onezy.

Utilities

  1. Use a clothes liner to dry clothes. You’ll save on your energy bill.
  2. Replace old appliances with ones that have Energy Star approval.
  3. Regularly clean the coils on the back of your refrigerator. A clean coil uses less energy.
  4. Make sure your freezer is full. An empty freezer requires more energy to keep cold.
  5. Use washable coffee mug instead of Styrofoam. You’ll save money and help the environment.
  6. Replace all your incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent lighting.
  7. Turn off the lights when not using a room.
  8. Turn off your appliances when not using them.
  9. Don’t use a cell phone.
  10. If you have a cell phone, don’t buy the extra features like text messaging and web access.
  11. If you have a cell phone, get rid of your land line.
  12. Get rid of cable. Who needs 100 channels of crap?
  13. Use the internet at school or the library. Not only will you save money, you’ll save time.
  14. During the winter, leave the oven open after you cook to heat the house.
  15. Sign up for Skype for long distant phone calls.
  16. Turn your heater thermostat down 2 degrees in winter and up 2 degrees in the summer.

Miscellaneous

  1. Get a digital camera. You save money on film.
  2. Don’t own a pet. You’ll save money on food and shots.

Shopping

  1. Avoid impulse buying. Practice tantric shopping.
  2. Buy as much as you can online.
  3. Negotiate the price on big ticket items like cars, electronics, and large appliances.
  4. Use cash as a negotiating tool. Nothing makes a seller’s mouth water than cold hard cash in their hand.
  5. Before you buy something, ask if the item will be put on sale in the near future.
  6. Don’t buy extended warranties. Eighty percent are never used, and they’re a major profit item for the vendor. That’s why they push you so hard to buy them!
  7. Keep receipts and send in rebate slips. Very few consumers actually return rebate coupons. Which is, of course, exactly what the manufacturers are hoping for.

Low cost ways of making extra money

  1. Sell your old stuff, like CD’s and books on eBay and Amazon.
  2. Turn your hobby into a business. Pretty much anything you do can be turned into a business of some sort.
  3. Sign up with an online survey company like Survey Spot.
  4. Become a mystery shopper. Not only can you make some extra money, you might get some free stuff as well.
  5. Have a yard sell.
  6. Start a blog and put Adsense on it. You might only earn 4 cents a week, but it’s something.
  7. Become a consultant. Do you know a lot about a particular skill? Put that knowledge to work by helping others.
  8. Do freelance work on the side. If you’re a good writer, photographer, artist, or programmer you can make some extra money by selling your talent to companies.
  9. Start an errand Service. Offer to pick up groceries or dry cleaning for others.
  10. Waiting service. People these days don’t have time to wait on the plumber of cable guy. Charge by the hour to do the waiting for other people.

School

  1. Check out study supplements from the library. Don’t buy them.
  2. Buy used text books.
  3. Take advantage of free pens and pencils at business conferences.
  4. Keep track of your pens and pencils. You’ll spend less on them if you don’t lose them all the time.
  5. Buy back packs that your kids can use for years. While they might think the Sponge Bob Square pants one is cool in 2nd grade, they probably won’t think it’s cool in 4th.

Computers

  1. Use open source software like OpenOffice for your computing needs. Here’s a huge list of all the open source software you’ll ever need.
  2. Refill ink cartridges instead of buying new ones.
  3. Print off your documents in draft mode. It’s faster and saves ink.
  4. Use free online storage for all your digital storage needs.
  5. When you buy new computers or printers, keep the old cables. You never know when they’ll come in handy.

Gifts

  1. Make your own greeting cards.
  2. Make your own wrapping paper.
  3. Agree with family and friends to NOT buy each other Christmas presents this year.
  1. Offer to give a service, like a night of free babysitting as a gift, instead of buying stuff.
  2. Give baked goods. Everyone loves cookies!
  3. Learn the art of the re-gift. If you get something that you don’t like, keep it and give it to someone else later. However be careful to keep track of who gave you what. You don’t want to give a gift back to somebody.

Can you think of any more? Add to the conversation!
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Featured Resources

A great way to avoid spending extra Money is by avoiding Credit Card Offers that have a high Interest Rate. When you signup with a new Credit company be sure to check their APR rates and find out if a free Balance Transfer option can help you save money.
[tags]saving, frugality, personal finance, clothing, food, cars, beauty, health care [/tags]

Calling the Reader Helpline: How Can I Get My Business Off the Ground?

Written by Brett McKay


My wife and I have a small business… well, sort of. It’s called Kate’s Calendars.

Back story on our product
Before Kate and I married and while I was on my mission in Tijuana, Kate would make homemade advent calendars and send them to me. I really looked forward to them because it was fun to see the different personalized messages she put behind each door. Because communication is limited on a mission, opening the advent calendar doors was like getting a letter or message everyday from Kate. My fellow missionaries were often jealous that I had a girl back home who would take the time to do this for me.

Fast forward two years. Kate and I get married. My wife shared with me that one of her dreams was to turn her calendar creating into a business. I loved the calendars while I was on my mission and most of the other missionaries said they would have loved to receive something like it, so I felt there was a definite market among LDS missionaries. We had a sizable amount of money from our wedding, so we decided to bite the bullet and start the business.

We designed a personalizable calendar and found a company that could produce them for us. We decided to market them to Mormon families who had children on missions. So, we put a picture of the LDS Salt Lake Temple. We had 1000 made at a cost of about $2,000.

My wife started a website and created an online store. Everything was in place. We just need to promote the things. There’s an email service for missionary families called Dear Elder that has a huge LDS customer base. They send out monthly e-mails to its users and include ads from other companies. We decided buy some pixel space, but it set us back about $450 for a small square. That e-mail brought in some business, but not too much. We haven’t used Dear Elder since because the cost is too much for us.

We started to send out samples to LDS bookstores. A few showed some interest and order some, but again it wasn’t that many.

We tried Adwords to direct traffic to our site. While we did get more traffic, no one bought anything.

Now that I’m in law school and money is tight, we haven’t renewed my wife’s website. I made a free blogger page with the same info, but of course the site isn’t that slick looking.

What we need help with
It’s been two years and we still have boxes of these calendars sitting in a closet. We really just want to break even, so if we can sell 5oo at $5.50 a piece, we’ll be alright. We’ve recognized our biggest mistake with this business venture is that we made our niche too small. There are only so many families who have children serving LDS missions. If we had put some other image on the calendar (like a picture of trees or just made it personalizable Christmas calendar) we probably wouldn’t have this problem. Here are some questions that perhaps my readers can answer.

  1. Is a personalizable advent calendar even a good idea? It seems like most people we’ve talked to don’t get too excited about it.
  2. How can we promote this calendar with little or no money?
  3. Should we just bite the bullet and invest in a better website for the product?
  4. Any advice in general to get the ball rolling on this?

Again, we just want to break even with this. If we can do better than that, great. We really want to expand our customer base. We have hopes of making a personalizable advent calendar for Christmas and maybe one geared for families who have troops in Iraq. But in order to do that, we need to sell these Mormon ones we have.

My wife and I appreciate any help you all can give. Thanks!

11 Free Video Games That Will Develop Your Business & Personal Finance Skills

Written by Brett McKay

I love simulation games. Ever since I played Sim City on the Super Nintendo back in 1990, I’ve been addicted. In fact, I feel simulation games gave me my first lessons in economics. By playing SimCity I learned about taxes, spending, and budgeting. While the real world is a bit more complicated, SimCity gave me a basic understanding.

I still think simulation games have a lot to offer as a way of introducing people to basic financial principles. About.com has put together a nice list of free business simulation games. Play these and you’ll increase your business savvy or at least motivate yourself to become more business savvy. If you think you’re too old or already know enough, have your kids play them. It’s an excellent way to teach your children business and personal finance skills.

  1. Simutrans. The goal of Simutrans is to build a network of railroads and bus connections. Think Railroad Tycoon.
  2. Food Force. The United Nations helped develop Food Force. The object of the game is feed 6 million people on an island in the Indian Ocean. Food Force will help develop budgeting and planning skills.
  3. Lemonade Stand. Lemonade stands are most people’s first introduction to business. Now you can do it online. The object of this game is to make as much profit as possible in 30 days.
  4. Chart Wars. Ever wanted to manage a band? Now you can with Chart Wars. You hire bands, plan road trips, and sell albums. Harness your inner Rick Rubin.
  5. Fantasy Stock Market. The best way to learn about investing is to actually do it. But if you’re afraid of losing money while you’re learning, check out Fantasy Stock Market. It’s online game in which you compete with other investors to see who can develop the best portfolio.
  6. GameBiz. It’s 1983 and you’re video game developer. Try to outperform other well known video game companies like Atari and EA.
  7. Industry Player. This game is played online with other registered players. You start off with a set amount of money to be used to grow a business empire.
  8. MiniMogul. You take the part as movie producer who invests in future movie releases.
  9. Musical Manager 3. It’s the similar to Chart Wars. In this game you’re band manager trying to help your band make it big.
  10. Rich Man Game. Perfect the art of the corporate take over in this massive multiplayer game.
  11. The Second Chance for Mankind. This is very similar to SimCity. You goal is to build a successful metropolitan area.

If you go through all these and still haven’t satisfied your craving for simulation games, you can always play old school SimCity for free.

Google Talk as GTD Capture System

Written by Brett McKay

There’s this guy that I sit behind in property class that is always doing something else on his laptop instead of listening to the professor. For the past few week’s I’ve noticed him typing stuff into a little box in the bottom of his screen. At first I thought he was using an idea capture tool like GyroQ to capture his ideas. Instant productivity envy and fear that this guy was going to set the curve on the exam filled my soul. But then I got a closer look. The guy is really just chatting on Google Talk. The envy and fear left, but an idea was born. Google Talk GTD Capture System.

Here’s how it works.

First, create a “dummy” account with Google. This is the account you will be “chatting” with.

Second, Send messages to yourself on Google Talk when you have an idea. That’s it.

google-talk.gif

The really handy part is what happens to those messages after you send them. All chat sessions on Google Talk are saved in your Gmail account under “Chats.” This has three very powerful advantages to other idea capture tools.

  • First, your notes are filed in chronological order, so doing daily and weekly reviews won’t require remembering when you wrote that note. The date is already there and filed accordingly.

Second, you can add categories to your chat sessions to yourself. Thus, you have the ability to easily add contexts to your notes. If you have GTDGMail

  • googletalk21.gif
  • Finally, you have the power of Gmail’s search feature at your disposal. Need all your notes on that trip to Rome you’re planning? Type in “trip” or “Rome” or whatever and let Gmail retrieve your notes. It’s like having a reference file without having to really file anything.

I’ve just started to use this system and have been really happy with it. I’ve been looking for a good computer based capture system, but have not been happy with the plethora of digital scratch pads or sticky notes that are out there. Sure, they’re handy for writing an idea down, but organizing them was a pain. Now I have Google to do that for me. I love you Google.

More and More Teenagers are Starting Businesses

Written by Brett McKay

Here’s another great New York Times Article on teenagers starting their own business. It seems like millennials are interested in making money doing things they enjoy. The internet has driven this collective interest in making money. This desire to make money has manifested itself in the people millennials choose as role models. Instead of looking to athletes or politicians as role models, many millennials look to business people like Bill Gate or Steve Jobs to fill this role.

I think it’s great that young people are learning so much about money at such an early age. I wish I had the financial savvy that many of the teenagers covered in the article have when I was their age. I blew most of my income from high school jobs on Taco Bell, CDs, and movies. I can only imagine if I invested that… dang.

Lesson learned: Teach kids about the value of money