Top Small Business Software for Managing Expenses

A guest post by Jeni Rogers

One of the unique challenges you face in a small business is budgeting for all the things your business needs to operate while also positioning yourself for future growth. When you’re just starting out, you are likely working with a small team and keeping your budget lean. However, you will have expenses that you need to track and account for in your small business, so you can ensure that you’re generating a profit and are prepared when tax season rolls around.

Luckily, there are software solutions on the market that are designed to set you up for small business success by simplifying expenses and giving you the tools you need to track and organize all of your spending. Each of the following expense management software systems are highly rated by Trust Radius users, specifically in the small business sector.

Xero

Xero is an expense management software that is designed around the needs of small businesses and personal finance. Reviewers of Xero mention that this system is ideal for small teams and iis easy to use and navigate even if you’re not a finance expert. You can use Xero in a variety of ways to make managing your expenses simple and effective, including:

  • Invoicing
  • Tracking Revenue
  • Managing Payments
  • Creating Balance Sheets

Xero can be automated by linking it to feeds from your business bank accounts as well, which helps streamline your accounting further by removing the need for manual data entry. Though Xero is highly rated for usability, they also have a great support team who can help if you run into questions while using the system.

Expensify

Expensify is another great option for small companies with multiple employees, who need to track expenses related to a growing business. In addition to the main accounting capabilities of the system related to organizing earnings and spending, you can also use this solution to determine ROI. Expensify allows you to track travel miles or hours spent on individual projects or clients so you can start getting a very clear picture of the most profitable parts of your business.

Harvest

Harvest is a popular expense management system for small companies, and also offers additional tools such as time tracking and costs associated to projects you have ongoing in your business. Harvest is particularly well-suited to small companies with numerous or ongoing projects in place. This solution helps you track and organize project details, record time, and integrates with various project management tools so that you can keep all of your business bolstering projects on task and on budget.

Reviewers of Harvest praise the tool for being user-friendly, and can also be configured to track billable hours for clients that you’re taking on as your company grows. It also offers invoicing options and online payment capabilities to efficiently manage your expenses as your business grows.

Expenses are probably not the most exciting part of your small business, but it’s vital you begin tracking your spending and building your profitability early on in your growth. Expense management software is an easy and affordable way to begin building all the accounting processes you need for continued growth and success in your business.

Jeni Rogers is a researcher and regular contributor to TrustRadius, where she shares her knowledge of the latest trends in B2B news and software.

The Pros and Cons of Being Self-Employed

Owning your own business can be both challenging and rewarding. There are some things that you will want to consider before taking the plunge and opening your own business, especially if you are new to working for yourself. Here are some of the basic rewards and concerns that most new business owners have experienced.

Becoming the Boss

Working as your own boss is one of the pros of owning your own business. You may find that you like going to work every day when you are the one in charge of running the operation. Being the boss is also challenging, no matter what the size or type of business you are working in. You will be the person that has to deal with any problems and will need to multi-task throughout the day to ensure all of the details are taken care of. It does take a lot of commitment to become the owner of a small business.

Business owners are among the busiest of all employees. You are the person that deals with customers, employees, production, and may be in charge or hiring and firing employees. If you are just beginning a small business, it does take a little time to adjust to all of the demands of owning a business. Of course, being your own boss and making all the decisions are also very rewarding, as well.

Work Ethic

Owning your own business can be very time consuming. As the boss, you may find that you need to spend more hours at work than ever before. being able to make most of the decisions does mean that you are responsible for the outcome, but it also means that you are able to enjoy the rewards, too. If you think that owning a business will allow you to just hire someone to do your work, the truth is that you will be disappointed. Working hard is the key to making your business successful.

Once you business has become successful, however, you may find you get to work less and enjoy more time away from work. Having a business that runs smoothly is the ultimate reward, since you have less to worry about and more time to enjoy the profits of your business.Since you are in charge, however, you also get to determine your earnings.

Profits

Along with being your own boss, you also get to decide how important profits are. While you may not get a traditional salary when you own your own business, you do get to determine how much money you make. With a successful business, the profits can quickly become surprisingly high. If you are committed to making your business successful, you can easily meet your goals to earn more profits than you have ever imagined. With the right business plan and some hard work, you can see a small business blossom into a booming enterprise.

The more profits that you earn, the more you have to enjoy. While you do have to pay the overhead for your business establishment and your employees, the profits are all yours to keep. You can decide where your profits go, too, whether you choose to expand your business or you want to begin saving for retirement. All of the responsibility are yours when you own your own business, but so are all the profits. You may decide that running a small business is something that pay off well in long-term rewards, despite the many challenges that you face.

Your Personal Beliefs

Another benefit of owning your own business is that you can meet and exceed your personal expectations for running a business. For example, if you are concerned about the environment you can begin selling eco-friendly alternatives to products that are popular on the market today or you can use Earth friendly manufacturing practices. Owning your own business is a wonderful way to ensure your personal expectations for quality and customer service are met. You also get to decide the type of business you own, with choices that range from service based to manufacturing.

Making all of the decisions takes some time to become accustomed to, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t own your own business. After a few weeks of running your own business, you will find that it becomes much simpler and less time consuming than you may have expected. There are many benefits to owning your own business, so don’t be intimidated by the challenges that you will face along the way. You will eventually be able to relax and enjoy more profits for much less work than you could have ever anticipated.

Miles Walker is a freelance writer and blogger who usually compares car insurance deals over at CarinsuranceComparison.Org.

The Importance of Long Term Care

Long-term care is when an individual requires physical and emotional care for an extended period of time. These types of help are typically the activities that normal and active people take for granted. Some of these are walking, using the bathroom, bathing, pain management, eating, doing errands and help with incontinence.

Most people only find out about long-term care when they or a loved-one requires it. Then their options become limited because of a lack of information and insufficient finances to pay for certain services. For this reason, it is important to plan for long-term care. 70 percent of individuals above the age of 65 require long term care. So, if you live beyond this age you are most likely going to require this type of care and this likelihood only increases with age.  So why is long term care important?

Service Options – By planning ahead, you will be able to determine all the services that your community offers and the special conditions that are eligible for receiving a type of service. You will also be able to determine the cost of services and the different payment options (public or private). Knowing this information will allow you to make better decisions when you require long term care. It allows you to take control of your future.

Save Money on Long Term Care – Planning ahead for long-term care is important because the cost of care now exceeds an average person’s income and resources. Planning for this type of care allows you to save your assets and income. You then have the ability to use your finances for other pursuits such as enjoying your golden years or leaving a part of it to your loved ones.

Planning for long-term care also helps your family members since they do not have to bear the entire financial burden. It allows you to involve your family in making decisions without depending on them for everything.

Greater Independence – The most important advantage of planning for long-term care early is the independence and control it gives you over your future. You can choose the type of long-term care you will receive. You also have the choice of living outside of a facility and live at home instead. You also decide the length of time you will receive these services.

Some families find it difficult to discuss long-term care with their aging loved ones. Adult children feel that they are patronizing their parents. But discussing and planning for long-term care is important and will benefit everyone.

 

How coaching can help you out of a rut in your corporate career

happy cat

happy cat

 

It’s amazing what a little time off can do for your attitude towards work. It’s why so many of us love to jet abroad for a week-long getaway each year: we come back feeling refreshed, relaxed and ready to tackle the weeks ahead. But if you don’t have a holiday planned in the imminent future, and would like to get that same energized enthusiasm for your career, there are other ways to do so. Coaching is an increasingly popular way to achieve this.
Although there are often negative connotations associated with the word ‘therapy,’ the two are not all that dissimilar. A good coach can listen neutrally to you, help assess your current situation and make positive changes in your life.

For those who feel like they are in a career lull, bored of the same everyday routine, a new challenge could be what awaits you – and don’t worry, even those with the most fulfilling careers can feel like this occasionally.

Here are 3 key areas that coaching can help you with, whilst helping you get out of that rut and enjoy working again:

1. Helps to build confidence.
If you have been in one position or industry for a long time, the thought of leaving that familiarity can be very daunting. Sometimes it can feel more secure to stay in your accustomed bubble. But, more often than not, all you need is a confidence boost to make the changes that you want in your career.  A coach can offer the encouragement required to believe in yourself- whether this is through interview techniques for a new position or the courage to speak with your superior and re-negotiate your current contract.

2. Become objective about yourself.
A coach can offer objectivity. It’s difficult to accurately review ourselves. Similarly, when a partner, friend or family member offers advice or an opinion, it is often biased in the hope of being supportive. But, to break old habits you will need tough love. Acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses can give you a new sense of direction, and an outsider is the best way to achieve this.
Not only can this new awareness help you differentiate between your desire for a new routine or a new lifestyle altogether, but it can mean you have the opportunity to make effective alterations to inject more happiness into your daily humdrum activities. We spend the majority of our days in the workplace so you may as well make the most of it.

3. Set achievable goals.
Experience with business clients gives coaches the knowledge to know what goals are feasible within a set time frame. Aiming to ‘turn your life around’ in a fortnight is not only unrealistic, but can leave you feeling deflated when it doesn’t happen – despite being impracticable in the first place.  Emotions can often overwhelm us and trigger impulsive decision but having an objective person for support can ensure that you don’t throw in the towel without a proper plan.

When you’re in a rut in your career, it’s always a good idea to evaluate your current situation, look at where you want to be, and what you’re capable of. Then it’s just about receiving the push to get it done. This is what coaching is ideal for. The renowned philosopher Albert Schweitzer famously said: “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”

Finding what you love is half the battle. Learning how to implement it is the other. In this sense, life coaching may not be imperative for your career, but just like a sunny day, although it might not always be needed, it sure makes a different when it’s there.

Bev James is the managing director of The Coaching Academy who trains and mentors life coaches across the UK. Bev enjoys her life as a successful serial entrepreneur, coach, and business mentor.”

Photo LicenseAttribution Some rights reserved by Ari Helminen

Seven Mistakes to Avoid when Choosing Life Insurance

question mark

question mark

 

Choosing life insurance can be an onerous task. It doesn’t just make you think about all the bad things that could happen to you and your family, it makes you think about it in detail. On top of that, you then have to decide what type of insurance you need, what level of cover is best, and which insurance provider to go for.

It can be enough to put you off altogether. But, try not to be discouraged. Here are a few guidelines on what not to do. After all, once you know what not to do, the rest should fall into place!

Don’t settle

As we said, it can be easy to get discouraged when you are looking for life insurance. There are so many options, so many insurance providers and so many insurance products. Wading through them can seem like a huge task. However, it’s never a good idea to settle. Don’t just go for the first half-decent option, just so you can stop looking. Taking some extra time should mean you get life insurance that actually suits you – and at a better price. If you’re hung up on where to start, you can begin with a quote from mainstream providers.

Don’t be uninformed

Knowledge is power, as they say. Knowledge is also the key to finding the best life insurance. Do some research to find out what type of life insurance products are out there, and try to find out more about each insurer. This should help you to find a product that suits you, any extras that need to be added on, with an insurer that is professional and offers the kind of service that benefits you.

Don’t be pushed

Once you know what you want, you will also know what you don’t want. While some insurers may try to convince you to buy certain products or extras, it may be the case that you don’t actually need them. As long as you know what you need, you won’t waste money on anything you don’t need.

Don’t be put off by prices

When you find out the price of the policy you’re interested in, there can be a certain amount of ‘sticker shock’. Try not to be put off by prices. As long as you take the time to find out what level of cover you need, as well as what’s on offer, then you know you will be getting the best deal for the type of cover that suits you. And remember, life insurance offers valuable protection – it’s not really something you want to scrimp on.

Don’t let someone else fill in the forms

There is often one person in the household that deals with the finances and paperwork. However, you must make sure that you are the one who answers any questions about you, when life insurance applications and paperwork are being completed. However well you and your partner know each other, it’s still possible that incorrect information could be given. This could lead to a void policy, or a claim being denied.

Don’t undervalue non-working partners

Non-working partners and partners that work part-time are often undervalued on life insurance policies. Often, we only pay attention to the actual paychecks that come into the household, and forget about all the work that goes on around the house. However, if you think how much it would cost if an outside party was brought in to do those tasks, the costs would really add up.

Don’t just forget about it

Unfortunately, you can’t just forget about your policy once you have purchased it. It’s more than likely that your life insurance will need to be updated over the years. Try to have a look over your policy every year or so, or when there is a life-changing event in your family. Update your policy as required, to be sure you are still covered for any lifestyle changes.

Photo LicenseAttribution Some rights reserved by Bilal Kamoon

what is professional indemnity insurance?

Whether it is car, house, pet, possessions or life insurance, we all have insurance in the hope that we will never have to use it. However, this does not make insurance generally any less important to have.

Professional indemnity insurance is often a much forgotten insurance when it comes to business; however if you are a sole trader or in a partnership, you won’t be afforded the same protection as that of a limited company or limited partnership. If you are negligent or even make an innocent mistake which causes financial loss to a client/customer, then it is not just your business which will have to pay out for legal fees and compensation, but also your home if your business has insufficient assets to meet the costs. Professional indemnity insurance is absolutely crucial if you are a sole trader, or in a partnership where you are offering advice or other services whereby people rely on you for accurate information and a 100% accurate service.

In the present day and age of the ‘claim culture,’ you can almost guarantee that no matter how well you get on with your customers or clients, if you have not given them precisely what was promised, then you are highly likely to face a claim.

It is easy to go along with the day-to-day business matters and take a ‘cross that bridge when we come to it approach’, but seriously and honestly consider the following before you take this laid-back approach; how will you pay for legal costs in defending a claim made against you? How will you pay compensation for loss suffered by your client? How much money do you have set aside for dealing with potential claims? What would you do if your business has insufficient realisable assets to cover the financial costs?

If you are worried about adding another expense to your business with professional indemnity premiums, then think seriously about whether you should risk carrying on in business until you can afford to have such insurance. It is one thing risking your business, but quite another to risk your home and livelihood as well. If you are a sole trader, freelancer offering a service or in a partnership, you cannot really afford not to have professional indemnity insurance.

Refinancing Can Save You Money

This post was written by Dylan Clegg.

It was not so very long ago that refinancing a mortgage was an easy decision. Rates were low and values seemed ready to rise forever. Millions of homeowners were cashing in on their growing equity, often walking away with a double win: lower monthly payments and a nice big check. It was the best of all possible real estate worlds.

The mortgage landscape has changed a great deal since those halcyon days, and today’s homeowner needs to look more carefully at the implications of refinancing an existing loan. There are still many reasons to refinance, but there are pitfalls to consider as well.

Good Reasons to Refinance

In almost every case, the best reason to refinance is to save money, and the simplest way to save is with a lower interest rate. If rates will be significantly lower on a new loan than they are on an existing loan, savings naturally follow. For example, a loan of $100,000 that carries an interest rate of 5 percent costs $5,000 in interest every year. If the rate can be reduced to 4 percent, that represents a saving of $1,000 annually.

Every prospective borrower does not get the same interest rate. Instead, the rate paid by a given borrower is customized according to that borrower’s specific circumstances. The biggest influence on the rate is the creditworthiness of the borrower. If your credit score has improved since you last took out a loan, there is a very good chance that you can get a lower rate now.

You may also be able to save because of changes in things you cannot control. If the amount of the loan was high when the property was purchased, that loan may have been categorized as a “jumbo” loan, a category that comes with higher rates. The cut-off for jumbo loans changes every year, though, and you may find that your loan amount no longer falls within jumbo parameters. In that case, it can make sense to investigate a conventional loan at a lower rate.

Saving money may be the single best reason to refinance, but not all refinances are motivated by savings. Borrowers often want to tap some of their home equity, whether to pay bills, finance an education, make improvements to the property or for any of a hundred reasons. This can be a perfectly valid choice, but borrowers should remember that they are using their homes as collateral and consider the risk involved.

Good Reasons to Think Twice

Regardless of interest rates or property values, borrowers should know that a refinance resets the mortgage clock. If an existing loan has a 30 year term, a new loan will start from scratch. If a loan has been outstanding for five years or more, the borrower is starting to see more principal included in each payment. With any new loan, the first few years are almost entirely devoted to interest payments.

The second issue to consider is whether the decrease in rate is enough to make the transaction worthwhile as a whole. Almost all loans have closing costs. If those costs are high, they can outweigh any savings that come from a lower interest rate.

The borrower’s plans play a part in the tradeoff between closing costs and rate. If Borrower A pays $5,000 in closing costs while saving $1,000 per year on monthly payments, he will not recoup those closing costs if he plans to sell the house next year. Borrower B, however, who plans to be in the home for the next 20 years, will see savings after the first five years and will save enough over the life of the loan to more than make up for the initial costs.

Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) can also be a factor. PMI is a monthly cost that is typically applied to mortgages when the loan-to-value ratio exceeds 80 percent. A borrower may not have faced PMI when he purchased the property, but, if the house has lost value, PMI may suddenly be required.

Even if they can be approved for a mortgage, borrowers who have had recent credit issues may run into problems. Lenders save their lowest rates for their most creditworthy borrowers. Borrowers with credit issues often find themselves faced with higher rates when trying to refinance, a situation that is the reverse of the one facing borrowers who are refinancing with improved credit scores.

6 Ways to Salvage your New Years Resolutions

fireworks

fireworks

We’re less than a full month into the new year. Did you make any resolutions? If so, how’re they doing?

If you’ve already broken your New Year’s resolution, don’t be too hard on yourself. It turns out that the odds were stacked against you. A study in 2007 by Richard Wisemen from the University of Bristol showed that 88% of people who make New Year resolutions fail to keep them.

Those are pretty dismal numbers when you consider it. A lot of people break their resolutions and feel depressed. But as the Japanese proverb says “Fall 7 times, stand up 8”. So, how can you salvage your new year’s resolutions?

  1. Remember why you made the resolution: It came from somewhere. So take a moment and try to reconnect with the original impulse. Life distracts us, so try to focus past the distractions and find what you had desired.
  2. Discard the resolutions that don’t come from you: Too often we resolve to do the things we think we should do, rather than the things we want to do. When you have no personal attachment to your resolutions, it’s a lot easier to break them.
  3. Reschedule your New Year: January is actually a bad time to start many resolutions. If we take weight loss as our example: gyms are more crowded than ever before, and the weather isn’t always friendly towards going outside and exercising. If any of these things are impacting your resolutions, why not wait until the spring? Good resolutions are a challenge, but there’s no reason that you shouldn’t stack the odds in your favor.
  4. Redefine your resolution: Try taking your goal and breaking it into smaller increments. For example, if you want to lose 36 pounds in the year, instead set yourself a more achievable goal of 3 pounds per month. This gives you a number of smaller goals that you can achieve and celebrate, helping you build momentum and retain your focus, even as you move towards achieving your larger overall resolution.
  5. Make use of your support network: We live in a world more connected than ever before. This means that supportive friends are as close as the smart phone in your pocket or the nearest computer. By sharing your resolutions with your support network, you gain people to help you when you’re struggling and who can celebrate with you while you succeed.
  6. If at first you don’t succeed…: We get too focused on failure. If you could change your behaviour without any problems then you wouldn’t need to make resolutions in the first place. If we learn from our mistakes, then we give ourselves a far better toolkit for long-term success than we would if we had succeeded without any problems or challenges.

Guest post by Alex Conde of Searching for Happy, a blog about the simple search for happiness we all face. His series of Happiness Experiments study some of the popular theories on finding happiness.

Photo Attribution Some rights reserved by Koshyk

Control Your Financial Destiny – Be Your Own Boss

handshake

handshake

Most people are concerned about money. If you aren’t a millionaire, you are most likely part of this group. Money – we never seem to have enough of it and are always looking at ways to spend less of it.

For the average person, the concept of taking control of their financial destiny consists of little more than having a 401(k) at a job they most likely don’t care too much for. Few people take true control of their financial destiny.

One way to have greater control over how much money you have is to be an entrepreneur. While not the right option for many (if not most) people, being your own boss has been the key to financial security for a large group of people. If you are looking for a way out of the grind of your 9-to-5, you might consider being your own boss. While the risks involved are many, the potential payout is exponentially greater than anything most people will ever see working for the man.

Below are some pros and cons of being an entrepreneur:

Pros to Being Your Own Boss

  • It is easier to get a raise when you are in control versus being an employee.
  • Your entrepreneurial success is generally tied to how hard you work. When working as an employee, most times your hard work is not recognized. Employees that work hard are rewarded the same as those that do the bare minimum to get by.
  • There is no greater freedom from being your own boss, having the ability to do what you want, when you want, without someone telling you what to do.
  • The upside has a huge potential. If you are a successful entrepreneur, you can have huge financial gains that are beyond the imagination of the typical employee.

Cons to Being Your Own Boss

  • No certainty that you will succeed. As a matter of fact, most small businesses fail in the first 5 years.
  • Uncertain income can lead to a great deal of stress.
  • Most likely, you will have to put in a lot of time and effort before you see any results. A successful outcome is never guaranteed, even if you put in the time and effort.
  • You deal with everything, good and bad, which is something most employees don’t have to worry about.
  • You never really get away from your business. Even when you are on vacation, you are the person in charge.

 

Never As Easy As It Seems

Being a successful business owner is a lot of hard work. Period. Don’t believe anybody who tells you otherwise. There is no such a thing as getting rich overnight as your own boss.

Most people are not cut out to work for themselves. Most people should be employees, working for someone else. But, for the fortunate few that take the risks and become a successful entrepreneur, the potential payoffs are worth the pain it took to get there.

Take Control of Your Financial Destiny

While you are clipping your coupons and shopping for the best deal to try to stretch your dollars, just keep in mind that there may be another answer for you. Maybe you should take some time and consider if being an entrepreneur might be something that would be a good fit for you. Fortunately, you can explore your options while you keep your day job. You can even get your feet wet while you continue to work for the man, though doing so will be equivalent to working two full-time jobs, at the very least.

Entrepreneurs control their financial destiny. They don’t spend their time clipping coupons or shopping for a deal. They spend their time building a business that will give them the financial freedom they yearn for and deserve.

You have the choice if you want to be an employee or if you want to be the boss. Choose wisely, as the decision you make will greatly impact your financial future.

About the Author:

Guest post by Marshall Davis of Business Service Reviews, a website that reviews products and services that help entrepreneurs start, grow and maintain successful small businesses. His new interview series, Talking Small Biz, will shed some light on how different entrepreneurs are finding success in their chosen field.

Photo Attribution Some rights reserved by buddawiggi

Budget Challenged Heal Thy Self

George Washington Eyes

George Washington Eyes

The following is a guest post from Neal Frankle. He is a Certified Financial Planner in Los Angeles and owner of Wealth Pilgrim, one of my all-time favorite personal finance blogs.

You may not have grown up with good financial habits being modeled all around you. Most people I know didn’t. I know I didin’t.

To make matters worse, financial advisors, for the most part, aren’t going to help you in this arena either. Even though your budgeting is the foundation of your financial security, there is no money in it for advisors to help you here so very few do.

The good news is, you can be the master of your budget without much education or training. And you don’t even need sophisticated software to do a good job. Here are the basics of budget coaching that you can do for yourself.

1. Intel

The first thing you need is information. You need to know how much it costs you to live. Or, let me put it another way. You need to know how much money you spend, on average, each month.

One way to do this is by writing everything down. When I was a young financial advisor, that’s what I asked clients to do. The weird thing is…nobody did it. After about 5 years of being disappointed by non-compliance I came up with another suggestion.

Look at your bank statements. This idea, if I must say so myself, is genius. If you pay all your bills from one checking account (and if you aren’t doing this, why not?) you can simply look at the total monthly distributions. Every checking account monthly statement summarizes those distributions so that, in effect, is what you spend.

Of course, if your credit card bills (or other debts) rise or fall, that will mean you either spend more or less. But for most of us, the total withdrawals from our checking accounts tells us what we spend on average each month. Go get your bank account statements from each of the last 24 months and tally up your average monthly spending. It’s a powerful number to know. I encourage everyone to use this method (in addition to the method below) because it gives you a big picture view. You will know very quickly if you are spending too much compared to your income. It’s staring you right in the face.

The third method is to use a budget tracking software package program. If you go this route, you can download your transactions right into your software without doing much work yourself. This will give you the details you’ll need to make the decisions about what to cut and by how much.

2. Values and Goals.

The next step is to evaluate whether or not your spending is in line with what you value most. For example, if your dream is to travel to a third-world country and help cure disease, it would be appropriate to budget in an aggressive saving plan for travel. But if that’s your goal and you spend your savings on trips to Vegas every other month, it won’t be difficult to see which financial behaviors need to change.

Likewise, if your goals are to create financial security for your family, it will be important for you to be clear on that and keep that goal in mind when you examine your spending. If you spend more than you earn, clearly your behaviors are out of synch with your goals and values.

3. Pow Wow

The third step towards financial health is to get total commitment from everyone in your family. The way I figure it, everyone is involved in spending so they have to buy in to the new approach. Talk about what’s changing and why. Explain the benefits of making these changes and talk about the changes the family (collectively and individually) are considering. Don’t make it an edict. Get everyone’s input and commitment.

Finally, have monthly meetings to discuss progress. Don’t expect perfection because it doesn’t exist. Make allowances for people going over budget. Just gather the family together every month and discuss what went right and what could have gone better. Get input from everyone to determine how they see things.

Using these 3 steps, you’ll be able to transform your financial situation dramatically and rather quickly. At least that’s been my experience.

What about you? Have you ever had to make big changes in your spending? How did you handle the situation?

Photo Attribution Some rights reserved by peasap

Preparing your home for repair

The following is a post on behalf of Money Supermarket.

The current housing market has caused many people to choose to stay in their homes a little longer rather than purchasing a new home.

Houses are not selling for very much right now, so in order to avoid losing money, many homeowners are renovating their current houses instead.

Whether you are repairing your own home or “flipping” another, there are several steps you should take before you start working on your projects.

First of all, make sure you can afford the repairs while making the house payments before you invest in a “fixer-upper”. Use a mortgage calculator to figure out what the monthly payments are and make sure that you have extra money left over for supplies and emergencies.

If you are renovating your own home, make sure that the repairs are going to be worth it. With a mortgage calculator, figure out the total amount of money you will have paid toward your mortgage by the time you plan to sell. Add the total amount that you plan to spend on repairs. If you are comfortable with the total, proceed with the preparations.

Make a list of all the repairs and renovations projects that you want to work on. Highlight the projects that are most important to you. Make a new list and place the projects in order of priority.

Next, research every single project that you expect to complete. Find the most cost-effective solutions, methods and materials for each project.

Look into which types of renovations turn over the most profit. For every location, there is a threshold that the value of the home will not surpass.

So, if you live in an area where homes sell for $150,000, but you spend more than that in renovations or you add luxuries to your home that exist in $400,000 homes, you will probably not see much profit.

Amazing renovations will probably cause your home to sell more quickly, but the price will remain within the same bracket. Unfortunately, location is the factor that affects cost the most.

Use a  mortgage calculator to figure out what price bracket your home is in and what kind of income potential buyers will have to make to be able to afford it.

After completing your research, make a list of all the materials you will need. Estimate the price of each project as well as the length of time it will take to complete them.

Schedule out when you will work on each project. Take weather into consideration. Work on indoor projects during harsh weather and outdoor projects during mild weather.

Mark out the schedule on a calendar. Make several copies and give them to your contractor or anyone else who will be working with you. Sharing an online calendar might be a more convenient method, since you can make edits or changes at any time.

Make sure that your schedule is logical. Unless it makes sense to do otherwise, complete one room or area at a time. Working on three rooms at the same time will cause an overwhelming mess that will make you less likely to complete the project.

 

Breaking Down Eco-Friendly Banking

LEED building

LEED building

For most of us, green is the color of money.  But in business, going “green” means something a little different:  shifting from products and services potentially harmful to the environment to using sustainable materials and/or production processes that reduce or eliminate potentially negative impact on the planet.  For many businesses, however, going green is much easier said than done. Consumers are now starting to look far more frequently for environmentally conscious products and brands.

Banks have always been in the business of managing green.  Now, however, consumers (just like you) are demanding that banks not only tend to our green, but become green themselves as well.   Financial institutions are just starting to appreciate and understand the growing importance of transforming themselves into eco-friendly banking entities.

So, what defines an eco-friendly bank?  While certainly a timely phrase, even a little catchy, the key question is whether or not a bank that claims to be eco-friendly really engages in conduct environmentally responsible enough to be considered ‘green’.  If you base some or all of your purchasing decisions on the environmental policies of an organization, what do you need to know when evaluating so-called eco-friendly banks?

Well, let’s start by looking at what we mean when we say “eco-friendly banks”.   For starters, there is no concrete definition and no hard or fast rule that determines what constitutes a ‘green’ bank.   Factors that determine whether a bank should be considered eco-friendly, while somewhat varied, do share a critical underlying theme:  Social and environmental responsibility.

So how do banks exhibit such responsibility?  At first glance, it might appear that the ability of banks to influence positive change for the environment is somewhat limited.  After all, they’re simply banks; they don’t produce much in the way of tangible products, neither manufacturing nor distributing goods.  Some would argue that this limits what environmentally sound practices you can expect from your bank.  And they would be wrong.

Banks may not build anything per se.  Without banks providing the money, however, most of the time, nothing gets built. No matter where the money may have come from initially, a bank is usually involved in the distribution of capital necessary for companies to build factories, to manufacture and transport goods to market and provide support for those products.  From service industries to the capital-intensive concerns that include automotive, industrial and construction industries, commerce requires the involvement of banks to some degree or another.

If we presume (and we’ll get back to this) that the day-to-day operation of a bank does not have a significant impact on the environment, the banking industry as a whole certainly does.

Some questions regarding eco-friendly banking activities might include:

  • Does a bank make socially responsible loans?
  • Do those loans support sustainable production and distribution practices?
  • How do banks screen their applicants for environmental consciousness, if at all?
  • Are loan recipients a part of the solution or part of the problem of climate change, for example?

Eco-friendly banks also fund eco-friendly industries such as alternative energy, local agri-business (minimizing energy and other costs associated with transporting goods to market), local fishing industry and local merchants.

And, contrary to our earlier presumption, eco-friendly banks can effectuate positive environmental change in their daily operations, with some being simple and immediate and others requiring significant advanced planning.  With respect to the former, things such as lighting and insulation can be modernized fairly quickly.  Insulation, window treatments, and thermostat controlled building interiors are all effective tools for reducing energy consumption.

Consumers can inquire as to the bank’s policies regarding the construction of its own properties. More and more banks are making their buildings eco-friendly by following the U.S. Green Building Council standards which include such criteria as rooftop solar energy panels, steel structures made from recycled metals and carpeting made from fully recycled materials.  In the alternative, check to see which of the banks you are considering adhere to the building standards called LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

One additional area where a bank can impact the environment on a day-to-day basis is by reducing the amount of travel it requires of its employees.  Banks that let their employees work remotely from home also helps to reduce energy consumption and pollution.  So do those who offer their workers incentives for taking public transportation or purchasing more fuel-efficient vehicles such as hybrids or electric cars.

Eco-friendly banks can also establish their green bona fides in the form of the banking products or services they sell.  Online banking, for example, reduces paper consumption, requires no driving, results in less mail and uses fewer branch resources.

Some banks are providing ‘green’ mortgages at better interest rates for the purchase of energy efficient homes or for making a home more eco-friendly.   ‘Green’ affinity credit cards are becoming an increasingly popular product, allowing customers the ability to contribute to environmental organizations and socially responsible causes while making their purchases.   Many of these cards also have incentives such as cash back rewards that are comparable to many of the big banks rewards programs.

The following 10 banks are considered among the best of those that have integrated sound environmentally friendly policies into their business practices effectively:

  1. ING Direct (ingdirect.com)
  2. New Resource Bank (newresourcebank.com)
  3. Green Choice Bank (greenchoicebank.com)
  4. One Pacific Coast Bank (onepacificcoastbank.com)
  5. Permaculture Credit Union (pcuonline.org)
  6. Rabobank (rabobankamerica.com)
  7. Citizens Bank (citizensbank.com)
  8. PNC (pnc.com)
  9. HSBC (us.hsbc.com)
  10. TD Bank (tdbank.com)

There are, of course, others.  What all eco-friendly banks have in common is their focus on policies that are earth friendly and socially responsible and many of these banks are having far more of a social and environmental impact than most consumers realize.

This is a guest contribution from Bill Hazelton, CEO of Credit Card Assist where he provides tips, news, advice and recommendations on all things credit card-related.  Find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

Photo Attribution Some rights reserved by Wonderlane