How to Buy a Laptop

A desktop computer has its benefits, but if portability is what you want, then a laptop is a better choice. However, with so many laptops on the market, it can be difficult to make a well-informed choice. Here are a few things you should consider when buying one.

Size

Many people these days want to carry their laptops around with them, so size is an important consideration. Fortunately, unlike the laptops of yesterday, most of today’s models are much thinner and lighter thanks to technological advances. However, keep in mind that the thinner and smaller it is, the less power it will have. Because of the small space, processor speed is limited due to heat issues.

Speed

No matter how conveniently sized your laptop is, it’s not much help if it takes forever to load programs and lags during use. If you want to use your laptop for gaming, watching videos or using processor-intensive applications, you’re going to need more speed. Most laptops today feature dual-core processors at or approaching 2.4GHz, which is as fast as many older desktop PCs.

Storage

Storage capacity is another issue that, if not properly considered, can severely limit the usefulness of a laptop. If you intend to use the machine for work, or of you’re an avid audiophile or photographer, more storage is better. A good starting point for storage is 120GB, which will hold a lot of files before running out of space.

Price

Obviously, you should only buy a laptop you can afford. All of the speed and storage in the world isn’t worth anything if it’s out of your price range. Fortunately, there are ways to get a better laptop for less. Keep an eye out for a good laptop sale, buy one used or, if you’re mechanically inclined, you can build one yourself.

Brand

There are literally dozens of laptop manufacturers out there, and this is a critical factor to consider. You’ll generally spend more for a well-known brand, but it’s usually worth it. It’s often advised to steer clear of brands you haven’t heard of, even if they’re relatively inexpensive, just because you don’t know anything about the company’s reputation or the quality of their products.

OS

Lastly, you should consider the operating system that comes installed on your prospective laptop. It’s a good idea to get something you’re already familiar with just to minimize frustration and make the machine more user-friendly. That said, if you don’t like the OS it came with, you can always install your own after purchase.

Alternative Marketing Methods for Your Small Business

A small business must have big ideas for marketing success. Growth is often a function of increased recognition of a brand, an increased awareness of products or services. Word of mouth and referrals are terrific. They are the rewards of excellent customer service and customer satisfaction. Another, and often more difficult task, is reaching people who have had no previous contact, no awareness of the small business’ goods and services.

In the current era, social media is a widely used method of gaining brand recognition and increasing awareness. Localization is the key, and social media have become sufficiently sophisticated as to offer geographic targeting for ad placements. Pamphlets in various forms of printed media can reinforce visual recognition gained in online advertising. Printed pamphlets are a traditional method, but the same principle applies to downloads. One can print an advert offline and would be more likely to do so if it involved a price point or specific package of goods or services. This combines a pamphlet with an online presence; essentially a website becomes a distribution point for a pamphlet or brochure.

Pamphlet delivery is a method that has a potential to work well along with all other marketing approaches. Pamphlet delivery can put a business name on the doorstep of every residence in a defined geographic market. Pamphlet delivery is portable, a method that covers events and other notable gatherings with an appropriate demographic. For example, one can saturate an area with pamphlets to coincide with conventions, conferences, a fair, or festival, or series of music concerts. There is an assurance of increased visual recognition and that the target group receives a focused effort.

Blogging is a method of putting a brand into the news stream. Blogging can connect a business to news events or other trending information, events, or occurrences. Blogging can be neutral and yet create an association with an issue or viewpoint. For example, a business blog posting based on news about hungry children can create an association of compassion and concern for public welfare. If the business also were food services, then there would be a vertical depth to the association of fighting hunger.

With any advertising approach, the basics such as pamphlet delivery can create synergy. People can encounter the brand, or visual recognition, in more than one place. This positive situation can spur measurable amounts of growth.

Basic Overview Of Email Marketing

There are many people who run companies but they do not take advantage of email marketing. This is usually because they do not know a whole lot about it. Continue to read on to find out what this type of marketing is, as well as how it works and why companies should be using it.

What Is Email Marketing

Email marketing is exactly how it sounds, it is a marketing campaign that is promoted via email. If you want to promote something or bring awareness to something, then you would send out information via email.

How Does It Work

First of all a business will need to build a list of email contacts, and this means that they will need an auto-responder. An auto-responder allows you to build a list, store it and then send out one email to all of the contacts on your list. Most auto-responders will allow you to create custom campaigns, which is exactly what you want. Once you have a list built and you have a campaign, such as an upcoming sale or a new product you are introducing, then simply send the email to every one your contact list.

There are a few different ways to build an email list, but one of the best ways companies can build a list is by offering their customers something in return for their email address. Usually most companies will offer their customers some sort of discount in exchange for their email address.

Why Companies Should Use It

There are many reasons why companies should use email marketing. One of the main reasons why is that this form of marketing is one of the most cost effective marketing techniques. It does not cost a lot of money to invest into an auto-responder, and the results of an email campaign can be amazing. Also, this particular type of marketing is a great way to spread the word about something, be it a new product or a current sale. Companies can also use email marketing to grow their presence online, as their customers may share emails from the company with their friends and families, and this means more money in the company’s pockets.

If you run a company and you are still not using email marketing, then now is the time to change that. By not using email marketing, it means you’re losing out on potential money.

9 characteristics of a great job

Q: Did you always dream of drawing and writing, or were you about to happily settle for a so-called normal job? Was it the misery of “humiliating and low-paying jobs,” or the joy of drawing and writing, that pushed you this way?
A: I pursued a normal job so I wouldn’t starve to death while figuring out how to have an extraordinary job. I just didn’t know how it would play out. —Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert (link)

How can you find an extraordinary job? What’s the secret to a fulfilling career?

The perfect job. Who doesn’t dream of finding that perfect job? Flexible hours, massive responsibility (or lack thereof), great pay, interesting work, convivial colleagues, travel with perks, and a corner office overlooking the city. Chances are that it’s just that – a dream. Most of us who work for a living – as opposed to entrepreneurs – are stuck working at something less than our dream. The need to pay the rent, the mortgage, the medical bills and so on simply makes the necessity of a paycheck too much to disregard. There are some positives about having that not-so-perfect job, though. Here are 9 things to remember about your current less-than-perfect job:

1. You don’t have to go out feet first. I pose this question to people at work often: do you plan to die at your desk after decades of working for this company? The answer is always no, so I say “then you plan to quit – it’s simply a question of timing.” Remember that your job is not forever. The drama and politics that seem so real now will be gone in 10 years – probably even less – from your memory.

2. You are not your job. Albert Einstein was a patent clerk. Nobody remembers Einstein for his year-end patent clerking evaluation, or the patent clerk staff meetings he skipped. He was not defined by his job, but by his work. If you love to paint, don’t let the fact that you work in retail sales discourage you from painting.

3. Take pride in your paycheck. It may seem like a small thing, often dismissed as “not following your dreams,” but there is some value to simply bringing home a paycheck. If you have a family, be proud that you can provide for them. If you are single, be proud that you stand on your own feet without help from your parents. Even if your job is not perfect, take some pride in the fact that through this job you can support yourself (and your family).

4. Never stop learning. Even the worst possible job presents opportunities for learning – even if they are lessons like “I never want to do this again.” Try and find opportunities in your job to learn new skills. Those skills might come in handy at your NEXT job.

5. Your colleagues may change. If you suffer with a particular colleague, remember that they may leave any day. You don’t necessarily HAVE to be the one to blink and quit! Sometimes you can outlast people that irritate you.

6. The next job may not be that great, either. Everyone has experienced the sinking feeling of quitting one job, moving to a new one and discovering it may be even worse than the one before. If you set an expectation that your life will be a never-ending series of triumphant improvements, you may have some too-high expectations to overcome. Even a near-perfect job will have its off days.

7. Working on the side is only possible if you have “a side.” Writing the next great American screenplay is a terrific idea (although you’ll be crossing the picket lines if you do). However, nobody has ever said that you have to do that and nothing else. There is no shame keeping your day job to support yourself and working on side projects meanwhile. Scott Adams kept working at the phone company in a cubicle even after Dilbert became a syndicated comic strip. Keep at it. Success will come.

8. Don’t discount the social aspect of a bad job. Sometimes the job duties may be bad but the people you work with are great. If you have a bad job but you like your co-workers, keep in mind that a rewarding job doesn’t always guarantee like-minded, friendly colleagues.

9. Motivation isn’t always positive! Sometimes keeping that not-so-perfect job is what spurs people on to avoid “jobs” altogether. Maybe the employee lifestyle just isn’t for you – use that frustration with your current job to inspire you to discover your real passion and break away!

(photo by Ol.v!er [H2vPk])

5 ways to get free money

Everyone likes free money. It’s my favorite kind, personally. I’m talking about the $20 bill lying on the ground. The birthday check from Great Aunt Winifred for $5. The extra 30 minutes someone overpaid on the parking meter that you get to use when you park there. It’s all good.

So why would you pass up free money? The problem is, there are plenty of opportunities, even in this day and age, to get money for nothing. Of course there is a price – you may have to fill out a form, or walk to a bank, or call an 800 number. But in practical terms, we’re talking about nothing. So where do you get this free money? Who is crazy enough to give it away? Your employer, the federal government, banks, credit card companies, airlines, supermarkets? The answer: all of them!

1. Not taking advantage of employer match in your 401(k). This is a biggie. If your employer offers a matching program for your 401(k), what they are telling you is for every $1 you put towards your retirement – up to a certain level – they will give you $1. You don’t have to stay later, or hang with the boss under the mistletoe at the holiday party. They’ll just put it in your 401(k) and walk away. It may take a year or two to vest fully, but it’s your decision to stay or leave. Don’t pass up this unless you feel that you don’t really deserve any more of your company’s money than they graciously give you in salary.

2. Not using a cash back rewards card. Credit card companies are not our buddies. They are not in business to make our lives more convenient – they are in business to trick us into running up big balances. What easier way than telling you that every time you spend $100 they’ll give you four shiny new quarters? The trick here is to turn the tables on them. Put all of your expenses on a cash-back credit card each month, then pay off the balance in full. They’ll probably be muttering and complaining in their plush credit card executive offices, but they’ll give you the money. I get cash back on my donations to charity because I do this. Think about that – I give money to charity but I use a cash-back card that pays me 1% back. If that isn’t free money, I don’t know what is.

3. Failing to join your supermarket ‘frequent shopper program’. Most big supermarkets have a “card” price on their store brands. If you use your ‘frequent shopper card’ they give you big discounts. All they ask in return is the ability to measure your buying patterns for marketing purposes. That may be a little creepy knowing that all that data’s being compiled about you, but hey! I’m not about to pay $1 for something I could pay $.50 for just by giving out information to Winn-Dixie that they probably can track in other ways, anyway. I may regret getting a flyer in the mail but most of these supermarkets let you opt-out of mailings.

4. Withholding too much. The federal government is a pesky creditor. Imagine if you went to a nice restaurant and while you were eating the waiter came by every 10 minutes to ask for another 1/6th of your bill. Annoying, isn’t it? Well, Uncle Sam can’t wait until April 15th to get your tax payment – he needs it now and he needs it bad. But he also lets you decide just exactly how much should be withheld from your paycheck every month. Imagine you’re back at the crazy restaurant. The waiter comes by and wants $10 every 10 minutes. Would you give him $15 each time and tell him to give you the change back after dinner? Why would you want him holding your money for you? Why do you want the government holding your money that could be in a high-yield savings account? Reducing your withholding can put some money in your pocket NOW instead of later.

5. Not joining airline/hotel/etc. frequent flyer programs. I know the value of a frequent flyer mile isn’t what it used to be, but if you fly they don’t charge you anything extra to put the miles in an account. I’ve paid for enough flights and hotel rooms over the years using points that I think it’s worth it. I would have paid for those flights and rooms otherwise. Using points is a hassle, I know, but it’s still something for nothing. The “something” is a little bit less every year, but it’s still there.

It’s all free money – who wouldn’t want some of that?

Private Mortgage Insurance: What You Need to Know

Unfortunately, if you don’t have at least 20% to put down on your mortgage when buying a home, you’ll have to buy private mortgage insurance. Also known as PMI, this insurance protects the lender when and if you fall behind on your mortgage payments. The insurance is almost always automatically cancelled when 20% of your mortgage is paid. If the lender doesn’t cancel it, be sure to contact them in writing. There are certain circumstances when the lender may not cancel your private mortgage insurance. If your home has gone down in value, they may not cancel the insurance. If you have another lien on the home, they may not cancel it.

There are a variety of ways you can pay your private mortgage insurance. You can finance the cost of the insurance, paying an additional amount on top of your mortgage payment, you can pay the insurance premium in one lump sum each year, or you may be able to set up separate monthly payments with the lender or the private mortgage insurance company. If you don’t pay your private mortgage insurance in a lump sum, you will have to pay interest just as you would on your car insurance. The interest rates typically run from 1/2 to 1 percent of the total amount that is borrowed, although this number varies from lender to lender.The cost of PMI is based on your credit rating, the type of mortgage you have, and the length of the loan. The good news is, if you earn less than $100,000.00 a year, the private mortgage insurance premiums are tax deductible, although this amount is always subject to change because tax laws often change.Paying PMI can be eliminated if you have paid off at least 20% of your mortgage or if the value of your home has gone up.

If you have remodeled your home, the value more than likely has risen. If you built a garage or any other outside building, if you have installed a new furnace, new plumbing or electrical wiring or done any other remodeling in your home, its value has probably risen. An appraisal would be required to prove to the lender that the value of your home has gone up, then they can determine whether or not your private mortgage insurance can be cancelled.No one likes to pay higher mortgage payments because they have had to finance their private mortgage insurance. Paying the insurance fees once a year can be costly too, but there is a savings on interest. There are a variety of mortgage lenders and they each have their own set of standards regarding PMI. Be sure to check with your mortgage company regarding the cost and payment plans they have available.

 

lacrosse and Russian

faulkner grave

 

faulkner grave

 

I didn’t get that much out of college, other than friends, knowledge, life experiences, and the ability to blow up an opponent in lacrosse.  I majored in math, and now I’m a finance and systems consultant.  Related, fine.  But they are two different disciplines.  I studied linguistics, and while I’m able to speak several languages, I don’t really pay much attention to language, per se.  I minored in Russian, though, and that deeply, thoroughly, and massively affected my life – the choices I made, the places I lived, even all the way through to my spouse and (eventually) my kids.  So don’t assume college doesn’t matter… it just doesn’t matter the way you think it will.  I thought I would be a famous mathematician based on my time in college.  Nope.  But little did I suspect I’d become a Russophile and become “russkiy v sertsye” – Russian at heart.

From Good Financial Moves for College, Part 2:

But that’s not the biggest part of it. Without developing my Russian skills I wouldn’t have met, pursued and married my wife. Maybe if I had taken Japanese I would have lived in Japan, developed a fondness for all things Japanese. Hard to say. But I do know that the decision to learn Russian set in motion the life process that brought me to where I am today.

Photo LicenseAttribution Some rights reserved by Bridgman Pottery

free time and productivity

Time Spiral
If you’re one of those people who think that you could accomplish a lot more with your life if only you had more free time, you’re not alone… and you’re wrong. For years I blamed the long hours I worked, exhaustion after those long hours, or the “necessary” errands that consumed what little free time I did have.  I thought that if I ever had a job that didn’t consume my evenings and weekends I’d have the time to accomplish all the things I always dreamed I would do.  Yet when I look back over the years since I’ve scaled back my working hours by becoming a consultant, the peak moments of productivity – personally and professionally – have seldom been the moments when I had the most free time.  I am not now at my most productive, and understanding why has become one of my primary self-improvement goals.

Since 2006 I have seldom worked more than 38 or so hours per week.  Here are examples of some of the clients I’ve had both in New York and Florida.  Client A was a very short commute (less than half an hour), and what I’d call an “early office” – I made it in around 8:00 am most days and usually left by 4:00.  Client B was a long commute (almost two hours each way), and while I seldom worked more than 8 hours in a day I did stay late on occasion.  It was a “late office” – most of the people in my department drifted in around 9:30 or 10:00, so it was hard to justify arriving at 8 and leaving at 4.  Client C was a short commute (by New York standards) of one hour, and the client was very flexible about the hours, not really caring if I arrived at 8 or at 10.  It was very much a ROWE office.  Client D was a driving commute, about 45 minutes, depending on traffic (often much longer in the evenings) and required that you be glued to your desk every minute of the day.

So when was I most productive while working? Client A was a horrific environment, with a no-wall cubicle farm, frequent last-minute meetings and a lot of work taking place on a trading desk.  If you’ve ever seen the movie “Boiler Room,” that’s the environment I was working in.  Client B was the exact opposite.  They gave me a quiet cubicle on the opposite side of the floor from the rest of the department.  They never had meetings, and email was the preferred method of communication.  Client C was back to the Client A world – a huge conference room shared by 45 consultants, all talking on mobile phones, yelling back and forth to each other and sitting two feet apart. Client D was extremely restrictive – quiet, with a boss who didn’t like hearing her staff socialize.  So where was I the most productive, both professionally and personally?  I was far more productive while working at Client B with four hours of commuting time than I ever was before or after.  Why?

Having so little free time while at Client B forced me to be organized and disciplined with my time while at home. It also made me focused at work, knowing that whatever tasks I could accomplish there would free up time at home.   I was focused on completing my work quickly and efficiently, and getting out as soon as possible, even if it meant working less than eight hours, because the commute was so long.   I did not spend endless hours reading Sports Illustrated or The New York Times during my commute.  I made good use of my time on the train by reading, and as any writer can tell you reading is the best inspiration.   Although we only had one child at the time, we didn’t have a babysitter and I seldom had any real free time until 9 or 10 pm.  So again, I knew I had to make the most of an hour or two late at night.

My busiest time was a time of tremendous productivity for me. Most of the “most popular” posts I wrote on brip blap were written during that time.  I was tired, and I felt like I had no free time, but everything got done that needed to get done.  While at Clients A, C and D, almost nothing got done.  The oppressive work environment meant that I was less productive professionally.  The noise and lack of space made it hard to accomplish anything.  Because I took longer to do my work, I came home and started writing, and it wasn’t good.  Because the commutes were short, I quit reading books and started listening to morning shock jock bits (this was before I discovered podcasts).  My personal and professional productivity took a beating.

Now, with more free time, you might expect to be more productive.  In my experience, I am not. I find that in a non-structured environment I have difficulty focusing on even the simplest tasks, which is surprising to me.   I have trouble reading.  I spend more time than I should with my kids, but not always in a focused or in-the-moment way.  I cannot get organized about my computer time – I check email again and again throughout the day, which is a terrible idea.  I waste time on Facebook and countless other nonproductive sites.

Some of us, despite what we like to think, need the structure of a job to be productive. Sometimes getting up and leaving the house forces you to be more productive whether you like it or not.  I have had to confront a simple fact:  everything I thought I knew about organizing my time has to be thrown out the window.  I have never been good about organization and productivity, because I was only organized and productive when forced to be by circumstance!  I have to relearn so much to be as organized as I need to be; but right now I have far more free time than I did in the past to do nothing but learn, so I have no excuses now.

Stephen King says in his masterpiece “On Writing” that the most important part of writing is learning to close the door. He’s a brilliant writer (if you think of him only as a hack horror writer, try picking up one of his books sometime – they are as well-written as anything you’ll ever read).  His point is that if you fail to close the door when writing, both figuratively and literally, you’ll never have a chance to succeed.  It is too easy to let the world distract.  Although he is talking about writing, he could just as easily be talking about cooking or exercising or almost any productive venture.  We have too much to distract us, and too little time to do anything well if we fail to concentrate on what we are doing at that moment.  The challenge is to learn that focus.

photo credit: gadl

What You Need to Know about Long Term Care

elderly couple

elderly couple

This is a guest post.

As millions of Baby Boomers approach old age, long term care has become a central concern for many families. Long-term care insurance is purchased to protect seniors and their families from the costs of home-based health care and nursing home costs, which are increasingly rapidly. Medicaid, which accounts for 43% of the cost of nursing home care, is already overburdened.  With the Obama administration dropping a long-term care insurance program (the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports program) created by the Affordable Care Act because it was too costly, most families should start considering long term care insurance earlier rather than later.

Long term care providers offer either assistance with the activities of daily living, also known as ADL, or they offer skilled nursing care. Those who help seniors with ADL help seniors with dressing, bathing, ambulation or help with taking medication, while skilled nursing care includes assistance to those who need more advanced care with all of their needs. This senior may have a chronic medical condition such as dementia, Parkinson’s, Alzheimers or advanced arthritis.

Seniors who require skilled nursing care find that the costs are high, often more than they earned and more than they have in their savings account. Most are over 65 years of age and have worked hard all of their lives. Failure to plan ahead for long term care can result in financial disaster and this person may lose their home to pay for long term care. Purchasing a long term care insurance policy aids in the high costs and can be purchased from organizations such as AARP. Medicare, social security, and medicaid may not cover all of the costs, so a supplemental long term care policy can help.

The cost of long term care rises around 5% each year and ranges from $1200.00 a month to thousands of dollars each month, depending on the long term care facility. Assisted living facilities often have a skilled nursing facility on the property, offering aid to those who may need more extensive care than those who need help with their activities of daily living.

There are alternatives to living in a skilled nursing facility. Some of the elderly choose to stay at home and hire a nurse to come in or a loved one may care for them. When it is no longer possible for a loved one to care for them, nursing home care is often sought out. Nursing home care provides physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy in addition to help with medications and ADL.

Some seniors require round the clock nursing care while others need assistance with transportation to the store or doctor. They may only need to have help with household chores or they may need a friend to talk with. Long term care ranges from help with the activities of daily living to round the clock nursing care. This person may or may not be a senior. More than 40% of those receiving long term care are below the age of 65.

The time to start thinking about long-term care is not when you need it.  The time to start thinking about long term care, for yourself, your spouse or your parents, is now.

Photo LicenseAttribution Some rights reserved by Jan Tik

you may not be an entrepreneur

angel of business

angel of business

 

I’ve often fantasized about becoming an entrepreneur. It’s an easy thing for someone who works in the corporate world to do. I made a halfway move: I’m a consultant. I don’t really live ‘in’ the world that my corporate colleagues do, but I do physically sit in the same place and enjoy the same pleasant fluorescent-filled days they do. But you’ll find in this corporate world that many employees dream of a future, full of boss-less days, exciting work and endless financial rewards. Here’s a wakeup call.

If you are an entrepreneur, nothing will stop you. I had friends in college (and in high school) who were entrepreneurs. They not only didn’t want to take a job while they built a business – they NEVER wanted a job. The very idea of a job was antithetical to the way they thought. I have relatives like this, too. They would rather live in a dump than take a ‘job’. They might work at at gas station for a while, or a temp job, just to put a roof over their heads. But they never, ever would engage in the kind of corporate jobs many people accept for granted. They wouldn’t give up the time when they could be building a business to sit in a cubicle and wait.

That’s not an indictment of corporate employment. It works for some people. But I don’t like the idea that within ever corporate employee there’s an entrepreneur waiting to bust out. That’s possible, but not likely. Most of the entrepreneurs I’ve known were uncontrollable maniacs – they had to get out there and build something. They were never going to settle for sitting at a desk.

It’s hard to admit what you are, sometimes. I wasn’t an employee – that was an easy admission for me to make, after I made the switch. What was tough for me was admitting that, other than my side income through my blog, I wasn’t an entrepreneur. I’m not. It’s not my skill set – I’m technically savvy but I’m a terrible marketer and salesperson. If you want to be an entrepreneur, you’ll do it as soon as you have 30 days’ worth of rent money saved up. You’ll be ready for the risk. If you don’t? You’re still a good person, but you’re probably better off leaving the business-building to someone else, and concentrating on your job.

Photo LicenseCopyright All rights reserved by sangyul