I’m Back…Well, Sort of

I want to start off this post by saying that I’m sorry I haven’t posted in quite some time.

You see, at the end of July, July 31 to be exact, I was laid off. I knew it was coming as it was part of the transition plan to acquire Washington Mutual by JP Morgan Chase.

So what have I been up to the past few months? At the beginning of August, I took the family on a long vacation (3 weeks) up through Oregon, then west to the Oregon coast, and back down. We stayed at a large ranch, visited Ashland (the Shakespeare Festival), saw my cousins in Junction City near Eugene, then we stayed 5 days in Portland.

Portland is a beautiful city. We took bike rides (that first mile up the trail in Forest Park is a killer, what with me towing a double-wide Chariot bike trailer loaded with my two boys), went to the Children’s Museum and the Portland Zoo, visited Powell’s (a killer bookstore).

Then we went to Astoria (nice coastal city) and stayed a few days. Then we went south, through Gold Beach (the 25 miles south of Gold Beach is the most spectacular coastline I’ve ever seen and I live in California), and many coastal towns between there and my home.

We had a wonderful time.

I am in no mood to look for more work, either. I kind of like staying home. But for now, that’s a big dream I have. October might be the month where I get really serious about a job. I will be looking in the Portland and Seattle areas, though — that’s for sure. Places like REI, Columbia, Yakima, Nike, and a few others come to mind as places I’ll target to find gainful employment.

I’ve let the blog carnivals slip. I kind of dread sifting through all the posts because there’s got to be a ton of them. I most likely will break them up into 5 or 10 bit chunks, just to manage them better and give each post more attention. Sound good?

In the meantime, I’ve got a ton of stuff to do around the house. I’ve reorganized the office closet and have eliminated a lot of clutter (but there’s a lot more). We’re going to be redoing the front patio with tile. We’ll also being laying down some more sod in the front and back yards.

Plus, we’ve got our back yard landscaping plans back. I haven’t even looked at them yet. This is one project where I’ll have to really think about how to chunk it up into much smaller pieces because if I tackle it all together, I will literally kill myself!

Also on my list of to-dos is to install (or have installed) a door in the office that leads to the new back yard.

Boy, have I got a lot of work to do!

I don’t have time to look for a job.

Meanwhile, I am still laying the foundation for my eventual exit from the corporate world. I have redesigned a lot of my sites and hopefully will be able to put a lot of them on semi-autopilot (I have tried “autoblogging” software and I just really don’t like the outcome on anything other than a news blog), so I’ll be posting a lot to my sites:

Computer Monkeys will get a redesign, too (at least the blog will) as well as a lot more posts added.

Photo-dodo is on hiatus. I love photography and took a ton of photos while on vacation, but I just don’t foresee finding the time to devote to the site.

That’s it for now. I hope to make some contributions to this site in the very near future.

By the way, if anybody wants to guest-post, I’m all ears! 🙂

Leave me a comment if you want to make a guest post or two about personal finance (please, no topics other than PF).

Job Market – Layoffs or Not Hiring?

Clearly, employers are not hiring at the pace they normally do in a recession. I have anecdotal evidence from laid off colleagues that makes it crystal clear that employers are not hiring, but here’s solid, statistical proof –

hiringLayoffs Aren’t the Main Problem – Economix Blog – NYTimes.com

What makes the Great Recession different from all other recent recessions is not mainly the number of workers being laid off. It’s how few workers are being hired.

Read the full story here –Layoffs Aren’t the Main Problem – Economix Blog – NYTimes.com

How to Get a Job in a Down Economy (Recession)

Get a job!

Get a job!

Yeah, this is a big post. I haven’t written anything substantial in a while. As you may know, if you’re a subscriber or frequent reader, I work for a company that’s been — ahem — “acquired” and I’m going to be looking for a new job real soon. I could lament about the fact that it’s the 4th quarter, nobody’s hiring, the holidays are near, nobody’s hiring, I’m a single-income family, soon to be zero-income family, nobody’s hiring…but…

You didn’t come here for that!

You, like me and thousands of others, either are looking for new jobs or soon will be. The economy tanking, the government doing its best impersonation of Sergeant Schultz (“I see nuuuthing!!!”), and companies increasingly getting by with less have all lead to higher numbers of unemployed, and an almost-never-uttered underemployed. That is to say, there are thousands, maybe millions, of people who have full-time jobs that don’t pay much or they have several part-time jobs that — again — don’t pay well. In any event, neither group is making ends meet nor are they counted amongst the unemployed (if you’re not looking for a job, you don’t count).

This post will cover three ways of earning an income. Mix and match, go solo, or do all three — it’s completely up to you. There’s the “traditional” way, the “alternative” way, and the “passive” way. First, the traditional way. But with some unconventional twists.

Traditional

Most of us want a “job” where we trade our time and knowledge (otherwise known as “work”) for money. We produce a product, sell a service, build a bridge, write a book, etc., all in return for a paycheck that either comes once a week, twice a month, or once a month.

Millions of people — the majority, in fact — who consider themselves “employed” (as opposed to unemployed or self-employed) have jobs. It’s supposed to be — and usually is — a symbiotic relationship, in that both the employer and employee gain something from the relationship.

I’ve had lots of jobs. Too many in fact! If there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s how to get a job! And I’ve had many different kinds of jobs. Here’s a short list:

  • Concession stand salesman
  • Yellow pages seller
  • Retail store manager and salesperson
  • School teacher
  • IT help desk
  • Systems Analyst
  • Auditor
  • Manager, credit card operations
  • CEO, computer consultancy
  • Print press operator

(not in chronological order)

With each job, save for one, I boosted my income considerably from one job to the next. However, that one set back killed my income growth for 3-4 years!

Nevertheless, here’s what you need to do to get a job. It’s a long list. The short list will come later.

  • Make yourself employable. This means get a college degree if the job you want requires it, the technical certification if the job requires it, the law degree and BAR exam passage if you want to be a lawyer, the credential if you want to be a teacher, etc. This step requires the most planning, patience, and time. But short-cuts abound.
  • Get a long list of references together. Get names, phone numbers, addresses, and emails. Get letters of recommendation. In short, network!
  • Speaking of networking, sign up for LinkedIn. There are a whole host of things you can do here. Check out Guy Kawasaki’s blog post about using LinkedIn to its fullest. Get LI “endorsements.”
  • Keep in touch with all of your classmates, teachers, co-workers, and employers (past and present). Talk to them long before you need to, lest your calls be labeled what they are — job calls.
  • Seek out companies you want to work for. Research them. Find out things about them that is not common knowledge (but make sure it’s objective and flattering). Put together a list of companies that you want to target for job opportunities. Find out who works there (using LinkedIn or other resources). Talk to them!
  • Be especially mindful of the Human Resources department where you currently work or worked. Use the recruiters there to find recruiters at other companies or headhunters / job search firms (they all talk to each other). If you’re currently in school, utilize your Employment Opportunities folks. Turn an internship into a job!
  • Open accounts at Monster.com, HotJobs.com, and CareerBuilder.com. Submit resumes and create cover letters. Update daily.
  • Find local job and resume boards and post your resume there. 
  • Use Craigslist.com for job opps. Post a “jobs wanted” ad (free) listing, using it as an announcement that you are available. It’s another form of broadcasting your resume.
  • Network!
  • Be on the lookout for opportunities at companies that you didn’t target. For example, you may prescribe a solution to a company that takes a real liking to you. Don’t forget that the CEO of Craigslist got his job by posting his resume on Craigslist. Obviously not a common occurrence, but if him, why not you? Luck = Preparation + Opportunity
  • Network!
  • Don’t be afraid to “go home.” If you liked a job but left out of frustration or the need to explore other opportunities, go back if that’s what your heart desires. We all get caught up in “you can’t go back home -itis” but you can. It’s your life. Do what makes you happy. Swallowing pride is not that hard if the outcome is what you truly want.
  • Did I mention networking?

The short list:

  • Network
  • Work the Net!

Nearly every good job I got through knowing the right people. I’d like to think that I got the interview because I had a good recommendation but that I got the job because I deserved it. Maybe. Maybe not. But whatever the case, knowing people and interacting with them bears fruit!

Alternative

This post is tied to several posts (Learning to Earn, Part 1 of … Many?, Ten Commandments of Personal Finance, 7 Things You Must Do Financially) I wrote a long time ago about alternative income. You’ll find “alternative income” all over the Personal Finance blogs; I implore you to read these articles first, and then come back. I’ll wait.

(Tapping toes. Joyously waiting for your return. Here are a few more from very reputable sources.)

The short story is that there are literally hundreds of alternatives to the traditional job. They all require that you start your own business, or at least require that you earn money outside the typical employer/employee relationship. Here’s a short list of alternative income ideas:

  • Self-employment — service business. Can be lawn mowing, landscaping, computer repair, energy consultant, home painting, mobile car detailing, closet organizer, Tupperware, etc. Mostly labor-intensive.
  • Affiliate marketing. Best done through having your own web site (or sites). You sell somebody else’s product(s) and earn a commission or fee. (Warning: Affiliate links ahead!) Some good affiliate programs are Site Build It!, oneNetworkDirect, and ClickBank.
  • Blogging. You earn money through ads, affiliate marketing commissions, and other sources (see How to Make Money From Your Blog by Steve Pavlina for a great blog post about this).
  • Sell your own products, like books, eBooks, videos, newletters, photographs, drawings. Amazon, Lulu.com, and eBay immediately come to mind.
  • Network marketing like Amway, Pampered Chef. Thousands of others. Many seem to place an emphasis on recruiting other salespeople. Not my cup of tea. BUT many folks have more than replaced their traditional income with income earning in Multi-Level Marketing (aka “MLM”).

Passive

So-called passive income is derived from doing as little as possible. The classic case is income from investments, such as interest and dividends. Wealthy people can afford not to work because they have assets throwing off income. Generally, this comes in the form of cash dividends from stock investments and interest from bond investments. You, of course, probably don’t have this luxury. That is to say, if you had assets like this, you wouldn’t be reading a blog about how to make money (you already have).

But there something to be said about this, from an asset perspective. In any income-generating endeavor, whether it is from working for somebody else, generating affiliate income, or building your own business, all the income you derive comes from an asset. Your ability to labor is an asset. Your ingenuity is an asset. Your capital is an asset.

Strive to make as much as possible of what you own a performing asset. If you’re at home sitting around watching TV, you’re wasting an income-generating asset (your intellect, or your ability to create something). If you’re delivering pizzas, you’re using your car (an asset) to generate income. If you buy a new gadget like an iPod, ask yourself if it can generate any income. If it can’t, think twice twelve times about buying it. See?

For most of us, it’s our time that is our most valuable asset. Time is finite, too. We only have so much of it. But we can turn that thinking on its head and instead of trading time for money, we can use an asset to produce an income. Think about that a bit.

When you think in these terms, your future becomes limitless. Time doesn’t matter any more. It’s what you do in the time you have that determines whether you earn a generous income or not.

I hope that I’ve given you some food for thought. To summarize, most of us just want a fair wage for the time we put in. That’s perfectly acceptable. However, I think I’ve given you some ideas about how to generate more than just a trade of your time for money. You can certainly enhance your monthly take-home pay by incorporating alternative and passive revenue streams into the mix.

Money isn’t everything. It’s the only thing. Wait. That’s only for football.
Enjoy life. Spend time with your family.

Ten Commandments of Personal Finance


I am not an avid reader of the Bible, but I do believe that it offers some very good advice on some topics; and I try to follow the Ten Commandments, not necessarily because I think I have to but because they’re good rules to follow. With that said, I’d like to offer up my Ten Commandments of Personal Finance, not that I have any illusions of grandeur, but because I think there are time-honored principles that we can follow to make our financial lives better and the analogy between the biblical commandments and the financial ones makes intuitive sense.

You may recognize some of these.

  1. Earn more than you spend
  2. Set aside a portion of your earnings in a retirement fund
  3. Set aside a portion of your earnings in an interest-bearing savings or money market account for a rainy day
  4. Set aside a portion of your earnings in a brokerage account
  5. Carry adequate insurance such that if a catastrophe occurs, you and your family are covered
  6. Don’t carry credit card debt if the interest rate is greater than 0 percent
  7. Pay your bills on time, every time
  8. Set your finances on autopilot
  9. Set aside some money for a charity, if you so desire
  10. Do not covet your neighbor’s spouse, house, car, boat, or other material things
  11. Bonus Commandment

  12. Never pay more taxes than you have to pay

1. Earning more than you spend is tantamount to any financial success you will have. You simply cannot build wealth and financial health unless you earn more than you spend. To get “into the black,” you need to do one of three things: Spend less, earn more, or do both. If you make little income, there’s only so far spending less will get you. You will simply have to find ways to earn more money, be it a job change, collecting cans, selling unused assets, or starting a side or hobby business. There are lots of ways to do this. My upcoming series on Learning to Earn will give you lots of ideas.

2. If you don’t participate in your employer’s retirement plan, you’re leaving money on the table. Odds are, you work for a company that offers a 401k plan, or something similar if you work for the government or are a teachers. In most cases, your employer will match, to an extent, your contributions. Contribute enough to get the employer match.

For example, if your employer matches the first 5 percent of your contribution on a one-for-one basis, meaning he matches your contribution dollar-for-dollar, then even with a flat or declining equity market, you will most likely make money. Think of it this way: Your employer is virtually guaranteeing you will make money in your 401k.

I suggest that you only contribute whatever amount you need to in order to get the match. In the previous example, that would be 5 percent. Then invest the maximum amount in a Roth IRA. There is one simple reason for this: Most 401k plans have absolutely horrible investment choices. Ask your benefits administrator if there are other options. Many times, there aren’t. Roth IRA accounts typically offer you much more investment flexibility.

If only every 401k plan would offer a domestic index fund…then investing the max would be a no-brainer.

3. Set aside some money, preferably enough to sustain you for at least 6 months, in a rainy day fund. Make sure it’s interest-bearing, but principal-protected, like a savings account. WaMu is currently offering 4 percent in their online savings accounts, if tied to their free checking accounts (full disclosure: I work for WaMu). There are many other choices, however: Credit unions, your local bank, and online bankers like ING and EmigrantDirect (I have account with all of these banks).

Odds are, you’ll find a job if you lose yours within 6 months. But it may not cover your expenses, so you’ll need some funds available just in case.

4. Setting aside some money in a brokerage account, even if just a few dollars a month, will enable your investments to grow over time, and beginning early and contributing regularly (dollar cost averaging) will earn you more than you might imagine. Open an eTrade, Sharebuilder, or Scottrade account. All offer low commissions. Sharebuilder is unique in that you can set up an auto investment program where you pay $4 dollars per periodic investment.

5. With all you’ll gain over time because you’re following these Commandments, you’ll want to protect your assets. The most important asset you have, though, is yourself. With that in mind, be absolutely sure to carry adequate life (term life, invest the rest) and disability insurance. Additionally, make sure you have enough auto insurance. Finally, if you have considerable assets, think about an umbrella policy. More on insurance in a future post.

6. Carrying a balance on a credit card is a bad idea, unless you’re paying zero percent interest, in which case I say, “Take your bank to the bank!” Having a balance at 18 or 29 percent is a surefire way to spend more than you earn, which is, by definition, a personal finance sin. Pay off your balance and consider yourself as having earned 18 or 29 percent (whatever your current interest rate is) tax free.

7. Paying your bills on time, every time, guarantees that you won’t be paying late charges or penalties on your credit card accounts. Doing so will also ensure that you won’t be paying additional funds to turn services back on, like cable and water. Paying on time also is one of the keys in getting and maintaining a high credit score, which will save you tens of thousands of dollars in lower interest rates on mortgages, car loans, and personal loans.

8. Setting your finances on autopilot will make living these Ten Commandments super-easy. Read my previous posts on how to do this.

9. Setting aside some money for charity, whether it’s through or because of your church or through the United Way or some other means, is good for the soul. It makes you feel better. It can also lower your taxes (it’s never a good idea to spend money to save taxes, but if you’re going to do it anyway, you might as well take the tax break).

10. Coveting your neighbors’ stuff is not good. It only will sink you deeper into debt. “Keeping up with the Jones” will get you junk you don’t need, like adult toys such as motorcycles, SUVs, boats, and other stuff that just takes up space and costs lots of money.

11. Never pay more taxes than you’re legally obligated to pay. This is to say, be honest, but seek out all tax credits and deductions available to you. Money you save in not paying undue taxes is FREE money. Take it.