Oct 30 2014

The Best Cheap Halloween Costume

By |October 30th, 2014|Blog, Life|1 Comment|

If you’re an adult and you’re looking for an incredible Halloween costume that is unique then I have an idea that I think is going to make you the talk of your local Halloween party. I know you only have a day left, but this one is so easy you can do it in no time.

I’m sure someone else has done this before, but I’ve never seen it so it’s an original idea as far as I’m concerned. Instead of choosing a superhero or TV character, why not go as the one thing everyone really want to see on October 31st… a bucket of Halloween Candy!

For this costume, here’s all the materials you need:

  • A black bucket from Wal-Mart – normally used for ice/drinks at a picnic (about $6)
  • A generic orange Halloween shirt (about $5-10)
  • Suspenders or some string (probably laying around your house)
  • A few towels (around the house)
  • Candy ($5-100, depending on how much you want)

For about $20-$50 you can have a Halloween costume that everyone is going to love. People will be hanging around you all night. Sure, they might just be hanging out with you to pick candy out of your costume, but who cares? (Tip: this costume is extra awesome if you are single and looking to meet people).

How to Make the Costume

The first step is to put your cheesy orange Halloween shirt on, and then make sure you are wearing some kind of pants. I feel “wear pants” should go without saying but I just want to be sure.

Then take your bucket and cut holes in it to put your legs through. Don’t make the holes too big because you are going to put towels or something inside the bucket to fill the empty space and you don’t want them falling through the holes you cut. Step into the holes and bring the bucket up to your crotch.

Then connect the suspenders or string to the handles of the bucket and put them over your shoulders.

Next, fill the bucket with towels, bags of packing peanuts, or whatever else you can find that will fill a lot of space without falling through the leg holes.

Finally, dump your candy on top of your “filling” and walk around making tons of friends. Or if you want to be funny and make people mad, fill your bucket of “candy” with things like dental floss, toothbrushes, pennies, and other horrible Halloween “goodies” that every kid hates.

That’s it. A unique, awesome, cheap Halloween costume that will make you tons of friends.

Oct 30 2014

Even the little things matter – How I made my blog more efficient and saved money

By |October 30th, 2014|General Personal Finance|Comments Off|

make your blog work for you

Many successful bloggers were once clueless about the whole blogosphere thing when starting out. I too didn’t even know what HTML stood for let alone build a meaningful site and attract traffic. The good thing is that these things are not as difficult as some gurus want you to believe. In fact the easiest way of building a successful blog is by keeping things simple and knowing how to tinker with the basic essentials. Here’s a short guide on how I built a blog and made it more efficient simply by addressing the little but essential aspects of the blog.

1. Choose the best domain name and reliable hosting

The domain name and hosting company you choose forms the basic foundation of your blog. Getting a good name is usually a bit tedious since most of the great ones seem to have been snapped up by the competition. I simply overcame this obstacle by choosing a top level domain (gurus call them TLDs) such as a .COM, .NET, or .ORG that accurately reflected my brand. It didn’t necessarily have to be an exact match domain (EMD in guru lingo). Finding reliable hosting was not easy the first time. Fortunately you can avoid the same blunders I made initially by choosing a hosting company with reliable uptime, nothing less than 99% uptime, fast response times, and obviously affordable.

2. Design and content

One thing I have learned in this business is that first impressions really do count. Visitors to your blog will only need a second or two to pass a judgement about your site. So use a professional blog design that appeals to your target audience. If you choose to go the WordPress way, find a nice theme that your visitors will simply adore. As Bill Gates once said, “content is king.” The content you provide will either make or kill your blog. I believe in being consistent in posting relevant, lively, and engaging content.

3. Plugins make life easier

Plugins are simply awesome. They make life much easier for a blogger so make sure to use a few of these magic workers in your blog. They are easy to install and quite handy. Fine examples of plugins I use include Google Analytics for WordPress which gives you stats of visitors to your blog and Social Networks Auto-Poster which automatically updates my social network accounts such as Twitter, Facebook, and G+ with every post I make in my blog. This provides a great boost in traffic.

4. SEO for more traffic

Traffic is the lifeblood of every blog. Without visitors, even the most impressive blog in the world is of little use to the owner so ensure your site has all the basic on-page SEO features. Take time and effort to give your blog backlinks from other high PR relevant blog for an added boost in SEO. WordPress has useful SEO plugins such as All in One SEO Pack and WordPress SEO. Optimizing your blog for search engines should be a priority.

5. Speed up your website

Visitors are usually put off by a slow loading website and will often click away before reading what you have to offer. I always ensure that my site loads up quickly by choosing a web hosting company with quick response times, optimizing my images, and using a caching plugin, for example the W3 Total cache plugin.

6. Monetizing the blog

There are several ways I monetize my blog. You can choose to add affiliate products in relevant industries or, after you have built your readership base, sell banner space for advertisements. You can even market your own products in the relevant niche. However, do not over-saturate your blog with ads or you may lose all your loyal visitors.

Oct 29 2014

4 Trends in eCommerce All Business Owners Need to Know About

By |October 29th, 2014|General Personal Finance|Comments Off|

shopping cart buttonThe world of eCommerce is an ever-changing place that evolves based on shopping and technological trends. Whether it’s social media, new forms of currency, or new platforms, there’s always a game changing development on the horizon. The one thing that remains consistent is the quality of your product and brand identity, which is the core of your business.

However, as a small business owner, you also need to be aware of what’s going on in the online shopping world. The way your customers access your content and merchandise is changing, and so are their preferences. For example, whereas in yesteryear it was more common to shop online using a desktop computer, nowadays, 40 percent of Internet users around the world have purchased goods or services online using a mobile device or desktop computer, according to Statista. This is just one example of how times have changed, and you need to keep up with the trends.

Here are four major eCommerce trends happening right now you should be aware of.

The Importance of Mobile

The importance of mobile cannot be stressed enough. In the past few years, most eCommerce industry experts predicted that mobile platforms would start to account for a substantial portion of online sales, even outpacing desktop format shopping. This has indeed come to pass, but it’s no longer enough to simply have your online store optimized for browsing on mobile devices. You also need to offer incentives to your customers in this context. For example, mobile coupons are projected to represent 83 percent of digital coupon users by 2016, according to Media Bistro. You need to be ready for a mobile boom which is coming soon. Therefore, in addition to making sure your site is optimized for mobile, you should also think about what kinds of promotions you can offer mobile customers. You might also want to consider whether mobile advertising is appropriate for your business.

Customer Service Matters

In an age where it’s difficult to get a real person on the telephone for both brick and mortar and online businesses alike, statistics show that customer service has become more important than ever. Even though online shopping is all about speed and convenience, when there’s a problem, customers still expect individual attention. Not only does it matter, but you’ll see the impact of good versus bad customer service.

In a survey, 89 percent of consumers began doing business with a competitor due to a poor customer service experience, according to Business 2 Community. Once someone becomes aggravated with their treatment at the hands of a business, it becomes more personal and ego-driven. Therefore, it’s in your best interests to cater to your customers carefully. If one of them has a problem, don’t delay in responding or making it right. Good, old-fashioned customer service will take you a long way in the eCommerce industry of 2014.

Prepare for the Holiday Season

Traditionally, the big shopping days of the year are Black Friday for brick and mortar businesses, and Cyber Monday for online retailers. This doesn’t seem to be the case anymore, since people are starting to shop more evenly. Not only that, but they’re also favoring tablets to browse.

In 2013, during Black Friday to Cyber Monday, there were more purchases made on tablets than smartphone sales, according to Internet Retailer. You’ll need to make sure that your store is compatible with both mobile devices to ensure that you can take full advantage of the 2014 holiday shopping season. Online store platforms such as Shopify make this type of conversion simple, but you’ll need to investigate your options. You should also plan to have an array of merchandise available and some decent deals even after Cyber Monday. Given that shopping online with a tablet is even easier and more accessible than shopping with a desktop computer, make sure that your inventory is showcased for the right screen size. This can make a big difference when someone on a tablet is perusing your online store.

New Directions in Design

Design has changed for online store layout, too. One prediction during 2014 was for designers to pack as much information as possible into a single page, either by using quick views or infinite scrolling, according to LinkedIn. You may have noticed that many websites you visit, whether blogs or online retailers, have a similar layout where all the information is contained in a widescreen format on one page with a long scrollbar. This is a common approach to current web design, and while you don’t necessarily have to hop aboard that ship, you should make sure your online store’s look is up to date.

There are lots of pre-made layouts available for online retailers, with different aesthetics that favor particular types of industries. If you’re selling wholesale items, for example, then the space for information and price is more important to have upfront than images. Tailor your site to your business’s unique needs, but keep it looking polished and current.

Oct 26 2014

Should You Sign Up for Legal Insurance?

By |October 26th, 2014|Blog, Personal Finance Tips|2 Comments|

Every day for the last two weeks my work has been sending me email reminders to sign up for my 2015 benefits. By the end of the day tomorrow I have to make my final elections.

Most of my benefits are pretty standard: a high-deductible medical plan, dental insurance, and then a few benefits like a small amount of life insurance paid for by my company. However, there is one new option that I didn’t even know existed but I am definitely adding to my plan this year: Legal Insurance.

What is Legal Insurance?

I had no idea that my company offers legal insurance or even what it was, so obviously I looked into it and it is actually pretty great. With this insurance, I am able to use a licensed attorney for things like real estate contracts (if I want to buy/sell a house), creation or edits to a will or advance directive, adoption services, defense of traffic tickets, civil litigation defense, and much more.

My company is using this legal insurance so you can follow that link and see all the things that are covered. It’s pretty crazy how much coverage it provides.

How Much Does it Cost?

When I read all of the benefits I get from this insurance, I was thinking it would going to cost a bunch of money and have crazy co-pays, plus I’d have to pay a percentage of the legal fees.

I was wrong. Dead wrong.

All of this coverage is available to me (through my work) for only $16.50 per month. That’s $198 a year. There are no co-pays. I pay 0% of whatever the lawyer charges. All I pay is $198 and everything else is free to me.

This Sounds Too Good to be True

I’m a pretty skeptical person, and this just sounds too good to be true. I’m definitely going to use this insurance to create a will and a living will. I may need it for selling my house and buying a new one (if we move in 2015). I also might need it to fight a speeding ticket or something. Who knows?

Legal Zoom costs at least $69 for a will and at least $39 for a living will (advance directive). That’s $100 each for me and my wife, or $200 total ($2 less than the cost of the insurance) and with Legal Zoom I don’t even get to speak with a lawyer. If I went directly to a lawyer I’m sure it would be substantially north of $200 for those 4 documents.

The bottom line is I’m going to use this insurance at least twice and potentially many more times. Hopefully I have a great experience but will make sure to post an update whenever I use the insurance to let you all know about my experience.

Here’s hoping I get great legal coverage for less than $200 a year. If I do, it will probably be the best $200 I’ve ever spent.

Oct 25 2014

Why Bother With Maintaining Your Car?

By |October 25th, 2014|General Personal Finance|Comments Off|

hoopty

Car maintenance is one of the most important aspects of car ownership in Canada. A well maintained car helps ensure your vehicle is safe on the road, and tune-ups, repairs, and other body work are even more important in a country that can be trapped in a ‘polar vortex’ for months on end.

Why do you need to worry about car maintenance? For starters, upkeep helps maintain the value of your car in case that you choose to sell it, and buy a new one. A car that is kept in working order is more likely to sell at a higher price than one that is less maintained by its owner.

Another reason to keep up with maintenance is to respect other drivers or pedestrians. A car that leaks oil or is about to lose a bumper can be dangerous to other people on the road. You never know when the weaker parts of your vehicle might break down without proper maintenance to tune things up.

There are also the legal reasons to keep up with car maintenance. Car insurance agents are more likely to reject an insurance claim from a driver who does not maintain their car. A rejected insurance claim leaves you on the hook for potentially thousands of dollars in damages should your car be involved in an accident.

There are very real moral and legal responsibilities that come with owning a car, but the actual cost of the maintenance is less than you may think. Dealerships and mechanics float many myths about car maintenance and insurance, which can make drivers feel they must invest more time and money than they can commit.

But most drivers are aware that there are many less than honest mechanics out there. Some mechanics prey on people who don’t know the ins and outs of their cars, and recommend many “repairs” that are in reality a way to scam extra money out of unsuspecting drivers. If you suspect a mechanic is trying to scam you, stop any work on your car and consult an online guide of car maintenance myths – and catch the scam artists before they cause you any harm.

Car maintenance is important and should be done regularly to protect the integrity of the car as well as other drivers on the road. But always be sure you get the most value out of any repair work that is done.

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photo by dave_7

Oct 18 2014

Five Budget Friendly Hobbies to Take Up

By |October 18th, 2014|General Personal Finance|Comments Off|

Many people avoid outdoor activities because they do not want to spend their money. However, there are many free or inexpensive hobbies to pursue after work or on the weekends. It’s time to put down your iPhone and video game controllers and start living again.

Cast a Line

One of the oldest and still most popular “guy” hobbies is fishing. Fishing, whether for fun or to put food on the table, goes back centuries, even millennia. Anglers agree that pulling a fish out of the water is the ultimate experience. All you need is a quiet stream, lake, or a pier. After laying out a minimum of about $50 for a rod and reel, and anywhere from $10-$20 for a license, fishing is a free activity (depending on how much beer you bring along). Combined, the total price is about the cost of a new video game.

Catch a Wave

surfing - beach

Image via Flickr by Tiago J. G. Fernandes

Instead of surfing the Net, try actual surfing. Nothing tests your testosterone than dropping in on a 10-foot wave. Even as a beginner, a wave half that size can feel like a monster. Surfing is not only great exercise but boosts agility, balance, and coordination while building water confidence in ocean conditions. Although experts shell out big bucks for top-of-the-line equipment, a beginner’s surfing budget need not be large. As a novice, you will not need new equipment, and almost any surf shop will have an array of inexpensive, used surfboards of all sizes.

Brew a Beer

An indoor manly pursuit is home brewing. The bonus of this is sampling your beer afterward, another American male custom, and being able to brew anything from bocks to pale ales. Keep in mind that home brewing requires science, skill, and patience, as boiling and fermenting to bottling and actually drinking can take as long as a month and a half. However, with time you can acquire a skill that can give you immense joy for the rest of your life. Perhaps you will become the next king of microbrewers. Standard home-brewing kits, such as those from More Beer!, cost approximately $50-$75, while ingredient kits costs $20-$40.

Become a Skilled Marksman

How about taking up a new hobby that could save possibly save your life? Target shooting is the perfect outlet to vent your frustration after a long day at the office. Not only is target practice cathartic for stress, but it also has the added benefit of improving a skill set that could one day protect you (or your family) in the event of a dangerous situation. There are countless options for purchasing firearms both online and through a retailer, but by using an online gun auction site like Bidgunner, you’re more likely to score a deal and without compromising quality.

Whether your newfound hobbies be outdoorsy and athletic or indoors and less strenuous, or a combination of both, they can be quite rewarding on a personal and physical level. They may even lead to new lifestyles or careers. However, if picking up surfing, it might be too late to qualify for the Association of Surfing Professionals world tour, but as the Beach Boys sang, “Catch a wave and you’re sitting on top of the world.”

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This was a post by Randy Vulture, a freelance writer based out of Brooklyn, New York. When he’s not travelling back and forth between the west coast and southern states, he enjoys going to music festivals and getting the best new tips on finance and tech.