Mar 26 2014

I Finally Found a Great Web Host

By |March 26th, 2014|Blog, Personal Finance Tips|7 Comments|

I started this website in July of 2010, which means I’ve been using a web host for almost four years. Aside from a few months when my friend Andrea from Nuts and Bolts Media was offering a hosting service, I’ve generally been dissatisfied (or “pissed off” if we’re talking bluntly) with my web host.

I’ve had quite a few because when I get unhappy I switch. I’ve even tried one company twice thinking for some reason they would have gotten better since I left the last time. In every case I’ve been frustrated and disappointed. That is, until now.

For the last month or two I’ve been using Siteground to host my multiple websites, and I can finally say I’ve found a host I love. I have a few criteria that I look for in a webhost:

  • My websites load quickly (most important)
  • If I need support, I can get it fast and they are helpful
  • Prices are reasonable

Here’s how Siteground meets all of that criteria and then some.

In the spirit of full disclosure, links to Siteground are affiliate links and I do receive a commission on any sales. However, all my previous hosts offered affiliate links and I never used them (aside from Andrea’s discontinued service) because I didn’t really love the product. Well, I do love this product so I’m recommending it wholeheartedly.

Websites Load Quickly

A lot of people with WordPress websites spend a lot of time trying to optimize the site for speed. They download plugins like WordPress SEO and configure them for the most optimal caching solution, and they might host files or images with a service like Amazon S3 for fast, reliable access to large files.

Web HostingHowever, none of that stuff matters if you have a slow web host. If it takes 3 or 4 or 8 seconds for the host to respond (which was happening frequently with my old hosts), then your readers will be waiting and some of them are going to leave before anything even loads.

Since I’ve moved to Siteground, I’ve consistently found wait times for the server response to be 1 second or lower. Some people would say 1 second is bad, but keep in mind this is a cheap, shared host. If you want server response times of 100-200 milliseconds, you’ll need to pay more than $3.95 per month.

The key is the sites CONSISTENTLY have wait times at 1 second or less. I actually found Siteground after reading this article comparing WordPress hosting companies. You really aren’t going to find faster hosting at this price.

Siteground Support is Amazing

When I was with my other bad hosts, I’d have to wait 8-10 seconds for my site to load. That wasn’t acceptable so I’d try to initiate a chat session with support to understand the problem. That means waiting 20-30 minutes until someone was available, and then having support tell me “You have too many plugins,” which is complete BS.

I haven’t had to ask Siteground for support on slow loading times because my load times have been great, but I have needed support on a variety of other issues.

And each time I initiate a chat session I am connected instantly. I get people who know what they are doing and understand my problems and how to help. I also have a button on the chat window that says “Not happy with this chat? Escalate to a manager.” or something like that. If I’m not getting the service I need, I can easily talk to someone else to solve my problem.

This is by far the best web host support I’ve ever encountered.

The Price is Great

Web Hosting
After all my bad experiences, I was willing to pay a little extra for the hosting service I wanted. Luckily with Siteground I don’t have to.

Their smallest plan is just $3.95 a month for a single website. I have multiple websites and host a few sites I don’t own, so I used their GoGeek plan which is $14.95 a month and is a great deal in my book.

Their plans do include free website transfer, so if you have been thinking about moving but don’t want to deal with the hassle of moving your site, their experts will do it for you.

Bonus Feature: Staging

I was simply looking for a web host that met all my criteria. What I found with Siteground was one that met all my criteria and also includes a fantastic additional benefit: staging. Note: this benefit only applies to the GoGeek ($14.95/mo) and better plans.

When one of my sites needs work I really don’t want to do the development on the live production copy of the site. However, it’s a big pain to manually create a staging or development copy of the site and database for tinkering. Then, when I’ve finally made the changes I want, I have to copy/paste them to the original site. Not fun.

With Siteground, they have a one click option to create a staging copy of any of my sites. It takes about 20-30 seconds and the site is ready for me to go to work. Then when I’ve made the changes I want and I’m ready to implement them on the live site, there’s no copy paste. I just click a button and move the staging copy into production. And of course they create backups at every step in case a mistake is made and I need to roll it back.

This has saved me so much time and headache, this service alone is worth the price.

Siteground Hosting Rocks

That’s the bottom line here. I can’t tell you how much headache moving to Siteground has saved me. If you have a website and you’ve been experiencing any of the frustration I used to have, I strongly recommend giving Siteground a try.

Mar 20 2014

How to Set Up a Personalized Terms and Conditions Page for Your Website

By |March 20th, 2014|General Personal Finance|1 Comment|

It has taken you months, but the website is up and running and it has been vetted for defects. The product descriptions and images are ready and the page content is up. In fact, everything is ready on your business’ website, except the terms and conditions page. At this point in the game, you might be thinking about taking a generic terms and conditions page from another website to cover any potential legal problems. However, that’s the wrong approach. Your terms and conditions page has to be personalized for your industry and your business in order to protect your business from any potential lawsuits that may arise from situations that aren’t included in a general terms and conditions page. It also signifies a binding legal agreement between you and your customer. Special provisions appropriate for your business have to be included into it so it will protect the business owner and the customer in case something goes wrong.

To help you create your own personalized terms and conditions website template, here is a short guide.

Step #1 – Evaluate Your Own Business.

Almost all businesses have their own requirements. For example, if you are a shopping website, your terms and conditions page should cover exchange policies, return policies, and even replacement policies in case of damaged goods. It is vital to establish the exact terms and conditions applicable to both parties. Make a list of the products or services provided and the payment terms. The terms and conditions page should also include delivery timelines, guarantees or warrantees offered, premature termination or cancellation of orders, notice periods in case of termination, and the legal jurisdiction in case of conflict. These are basic legal requirements required for all businesses, but if you offer unique products or services, make sure you check other similar websites. Note points that appear valid and add them to your own personalized terms and conditions website template.

Step #2 – Use a Personalized Generator

Once you know what to include in your page, make sure you use a terms and conditions generator. Generators are simple software programs that will ask you a series of questions. Once you have answered these questions, the generator will create a personalized template that is appropriate for your industry. You can then download the terms and conditions and use them on your website. These personalized terms and conditions generators are available as free and paid packages, and they are quite effective in creating good terms and conditions pages, especially for someone who is just getting started. However, a word of caution; some programs may try to sneak in a few words that are contrary to your business policy or they may add legalese that will force you to pay a small amount of every transaction to the generator website. To prevent this from happening, the Houston Chronicle recommends using a paid generator to create your custom terms and conditions pages.

Step #3 – Periodic Review Is a Must

As with any part of your business, it is important to revisit your terms and conditions page yearly to make any changes that may be necessary. Rules and regulations tend to change quickly and it is necessary to evaluate your terms and conditions page every year to make sure that you stay current with the rules and regulations of your industry. When you make these changes, be up front with your customers about them. Make sure that customers know what’s different by setting up pop-up boxes on the home page of your website.

Step #4 – Site Usage details

It is also necessary to be very clear about site usage and content details. Almost all sites now have a pop-up on the first page that requires a digital acceptance before the user can browse further. However, apart from this, a generalized disclaimer at the beginning of the terms and conditions page that warns users that browsing constitutes legal acceptance of site policies can be a great catchall.

The Bottom Line

When starting a new online enterprise, you have enough to worry about. Make the process easier for yourself by getting the help you need. A company that is well-versed in setting up terms and conditions pages can prove invaluable. If you have the money to be able to hire a company to take care of the initial set up of your business’ terms and conditions page as well as changing it as necessary, it is one expense that you may want to consider. They will not only create your custom terms and conditions page, but will continue to review it to ensure that all the information is accurate and up-to-date with the latest state and federal regulations to protect you and your customers.

Mar 17 2014

Could You Win a Billion Dollars?

By |March 17th, 2014|Blog, Personal Finance Tips|3 Comments|

You may have heard that Quicken Loans is offering $1 billion to anyone who enters their March Madness contest and picks a perfect bracket.

one billion dollars

photo credit: Columbiantony

This is a pretty sweet deal. Even the best lottery jackpots are only a few hundred million and you have to buy tickets for that. This contest is a cool billion dollars and the entry is free!

Since I’m a numbers geek, let’s do some math!

March Madness vs. The Lottery

Let’s look at the odds of winning lottery games Mega Millions and Powerball compared to picking a perfect bracket.

Odds to win the Powerball Jackpot: 1 in 175 million.
Odds to win the Mega Millions Jackpot: 1 in 258 million.
Odds to pick a perfect March Madness bracket: at least 1 in 128 billion (with a B)

The odds to pick a perfect bracket are hard to calculate. At worst, your chances are 1 in 9.22 quintillion — that’s if each game is a 50/50 chance. However, we know the games aren’t all literal tossups.

#1 seeds have never lost to a #16 seed in 29 years. #2 seeds win their first game about 96% of the time. #3 seeds win about 85% of their first games. You can find all the data here.

So using some of these pieces of information, one mathematician believes the actual odds are about 1 in 128 billion.

If he’s right, that means you have a better chance of winning over 700 powerball jackpots than you have of picking just one perfect bracket.

In fact, millions of brackets are filled out every year, and there has never been a verified perfect bracket in any year.

On a personal note, one year I had a perfect bracket after the first day (16 games). I started getting excited, thinking I might actually have a perfect bracket. By the time day 2 was over, I had picked 8 games incorrectly. Sad face.

To further demonstrate how difficult it is to pick a perfect bracket, last year only 47 out of 8.15 million brackets on ESPN.com picked all 4 Final Four teams. Less than 40,000 of those 8.15 million even picked 3 out of 4.

Let’s just say it won’t happen.

But What if It Does?

But let’s play a game where we live in the real world, where I’m full of distrust and cynicism. Let’s pretend you beat the odds and going into the Final Four, you have picked every single game correctly. Congratulations! You only need to pick 3 more games correctly and you win a billion dollars.

That billion dollars would actually come from Berkshire Hathaway, the company run by billionaire investor Warren Buffet. Mr. Buffet and all the people who invest their hard earned money into Berkshire Hathaway have a vested interest in not paying out a $1 billion insurance policy.

Imagine you’re 3 games away from winning a billion dollars. 3 games played by college kids who are living off a full scholarship and not even earning a dime off their basketball career. Most of them will never earn money playing basketball.

Now of course it is against NCAA rules for athletes or referees to be paid off to fix the outcome of a game, but with $1 billion dollars on the line, do you think all the fat cat investors in Berkshire Hathaway are going to care about NCAA rules? Do you really think they are willing to sit back and watch their company take a $1 billion loss on a a couple games of chance?

Call me cynical, but I don’t believe that for a second. I’m not saying I don’t trust Warren Buffett, Quicken Loans, Yahoo, Berkshire Hathaway, or anyone else in particular. I just think with $1 billion on the line and so many interested parties, I find it hard to trust everyone to mind their own business.

If it were me in that situation, I’d try to find someone to “buy my bracket” for a few million bucks. I’d take a guaranteed $20 million over the chance at $1 billion for sure!

But luckily, we won’t have to deal with that situation because the odds are it’ll never happen. (see above)

I’m Still Playing

Even though I know the odds are terrible and I am confident no one will win the prize, I still entered the contest. I did it because I like picking a bracket every year, and also because the best 20 brackets win $100,000 each.

The contest is limited to 15 million entries, so with 20 first prizes you have no worse than a 1 in 750,000 chance to win a huge amount of money! Those are the kind of odds I like!

I’ve got Florida winning it all over Wichita State. Let’s hope I’m right!

Readers: Are you entering the Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge? If so, tell me who you are picking for your championship game.

Mar 13 2014

Want To Get The Best interest Rate On Your Savings?

By |March 13th, 2014|General Personal Finance|Comments Off|

If you are a saver and like to hold your savings in a savings account, you have probably been disappointed these past few years. The interest rates for savings in traditional savings accounts have been at record lows, often hovering below the pace of inflation. Even though there is little risk involved in holding your money in a savings account, you could be doing much better while still minimizing your risk. Here are some ways to get a better interest rate on your savings.

High Yield Checking Accounts

One alternative to the low interest rates offered by traditional savings accounts is to park your money in a high yield checking account. These accounts have FDIC insurance and include all of the benefits of standard checking accounts with the additional benefit of having higher interest rates on deposits. Many of these account have specific account requirements, such as direct deposits and frequent debit card usage, which must be met for the account to qualify for the advertised interest rate. Are YOU Getting the Best Rate? Compare at RateSupermarket.ca.

Money Market Accounts

Another good alternative for low yield savings accounts is to move your money to a money market account. Money market accounts offer interest rates that are higher than those of traditional savings accounts, but account holders must operate under more restrictions, such as higher account minimums and withdrawal penalties. Before choosing this type of account, you should take your spending habits into consideration and make sure that you will not incur a great deal of additional fees by using the money market account incorrectly.

Certificate Of Deposit

A third option that offers better interest rates than traditional savings accounts is a certificate of deposit, also known as a CD. CDs offer a fixed interest rate on the money held in the account as long as the money is held in the account for the entire agreed to term. CDs are available in term periods of three months to five years with interest rates that could be triple what could be earned with a traditional savings account. However, if the money is withdrawn early, it is subject to early withdrawal penalties levied by the bank holding the money. This penalty amount could be a set amount or a percentage of the total value of the CD. CDs are a great idea to earn higher returns on your savings if you are confident that you will not need to withdraw the money before the term has expired.

Mar 11 2014

Tile Floors are More Expensive Than You’d Think

By |March 11th, 2014|Blog, Life|4 Comments|

I have a whole week off work so I decided to tackle a new DIY project: laying tile in my master bathroom.

I have already tiled my laundry room and it was pretty simple and cheap, so I was expecting a similar situation for my master bathroom.

Bathroom RenovationI was dead wrong.

Here are a few things that have seriously increased the cost of my renovation.

Cement Board is Almost More Expensive than Tile

When I did my laundry room, I was laying tile over a concrete subfloor, which means you can just lay the tile easily on the concrete. My master bathroom is on the 2nd floor, which means I’m laying it over plywood. That means I need cement board.

I knew I needed cement board, which is about $10 for a 3′ x 5′ sheet. I needed 8 sheets total, which cost about $80. I planned for this expense.

I didn’t realize I had to put mortar underneath the cement board (I thought I just had to screw it down). I bought pre-mixed mortar because I didn’t want to deal with mixing it and I thought one tub would be enough for the whole job. Laying the cement board over mortar doubled the amount I needed for the whole job. At $45 a tub, it increased my expenses by $45. Or so I thought.

The Mortar Bucket is a Liar

The bucket of mortar I bought says that I should be able to cover 130-160 square feet with one bucket. My master bathroom is only 100 square feet, so I thought 2 buckets would easily cover the whole job.

Well I’ve put down all the cement board and laid about 30 square feet of tile and I’m almost through my 2nd bucket. I’m going to have to buy a 3rd to finish the job.

If I had known I was going to need this much mortar at the beginning of the job I never would have bought the pre-mixed stuff. I was willing to pay $45 for the convenience of not mixing anything. That cost has now ballooned to $135. I probably could have gotten enough mortar mixing it myself for about $50.

Oh, and if you’re wondering I will be buying a 3rd bucket of pre-mized mortar. I’m so frustrated with this stupid bathroom that mixing my own mortar is just one more thing I’ll probably mess up and get angry about.

Baseboards are Not Cheap

Again, this is an expense I planned for, but I need to mention it because this is a significant expense. If you want to put the old baseboards back on, it’s going to be a huge challenge and they might not look as nice. The other option is brand new baseboards, which is either expensive for materials and time, or even more expensive to have them installed.

I have a great contractor that did the baseboards on the 1st floor, so Ill use him again after this job is done, but it’s going to cost probably a few hundred bucks to have the bathroom baseboards redone.

Tools Aren’t Cheap

I already had a lot of tools I needed: a tile cutter, a tile saw, a trowel, a rubber mallet and a grout float. I didn’t have cement board tape ($5 a roll) or 3/16″ spacers ($5 a bag), but that was a pretty minor expense.

The point is that if you aren’t willing to commit to doing lots of DIY projects, you might almost as much money on tools that you’ll use just once than you would spend hiring a professional to do it.

It’s a Good Thing I’m Off Work for a Week

I was hoping this project would only take a few days. I realize now that I’m about the slowest tile layer in the world and that I’ll probably need the rest of the week to make it happen.

This is just another example of where they say to estimate your time and costs, then double it. This project fits that description just about perfectly.

Readers: Do you have any tips on saving money on DIY projects?

 

Mar 5 2014

Only Water Again (40 Days this Time)

By |March 5th, 2014|Blog, Life|6 Comments|

Yesterday was Mardi Gras, which means today is Ash Wednesday. That also means that as a Catholic I feel compelled to give up something as a sacrifice during Lent.

drinking fountain water

photo credit: joshme17

I’ve decided to give up drinking anything but water.

Those who have been around this blog since the beginning will remember I drank only water for 30 days back in 2011. Not only did I feel great but I also probably saved a little bit of money.

So I’m doing it again. I will be drinking only water for the next 6.5 weeks. I don’t drink alcohol or coffee which may make people think this is a simple challenge. However I drink a lot of soda, juice, and chocolate milk. This won’t be easy.

Here are the benefits I’m hoping to achieve.

1. Be More Mindful of Jesus

Every time I eat a meal or grab a snack, I’ll be tempted to grab something to drink as well. That means I’ll have 5-10 opportunities a day to reflect on my minor sacrifice and think about God. I don’t preach on this blog, but obviously this is the most important part of drinking only water for me.

2. Lose Weight

By drinking only water I estimate I’ll reduce my daily calorie intake by at least 400-500 calories a day. Not only will I reduce calorie intake, but apparently there are other weight loss benefits provided by water.

I do need to shed 5-10 pounds before the wedding (which is less than 3 months away) so hopefully this will help.

3. Become Healthier

This obviously follows very closely with losing weight, but I want to be healthier overall. My cholesterol and blood pressure has been rising slightly over the last few years. I know I need to eat better and exercise more, and getting rid of all the sugar in soda and juice should be a step in the right direction.

4. Save Money

Finally, water is free. Let’s pretend I’m buying a $2 fountain soda at a restaurant three times a week, and I’m also buying a gallon of chocolate milk or juice per week. That’s about $10 per week of savings.

Obviously $10 per week isn’t going to have much of an impact on my personal finances, but it doesn’t hurt.

Readers: Are you giving up anything for Lent? P.S. You don’t have to be religious to spend 40 days doing something to better yourself.