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It’s Been a Remarkable Week for BFN

August 29, 2008 · Filed Under Blog Links · 5 Comments 

I wrote a post last week titled 45 Ways to Earn Some Extra Money. Later that evening I happened to be playing around with my new sitemeter account and noticed that it said that BFN had 515 visitors that day. Since the previous days I had 11 and then 30 visitors I thought this must be some kind of mistake. As it turned out, the post was Stumbled by a few people and all of the sudden a bunch of people were checking it out.

My first Stumbled post!

I had heard of this phenomenon but honestly had not expected anything like this to happen so I thought it was awesome! I expected the traffic to die down by the next evening but it has kept going strong. In fact, I had two days of greater than 2500 visitors and cumulatively I have now had over 16,000 visits and 27,600 page views! I know that’s nothing for some blogs out that but it is positively astounding for my little blog. It is finally starting to die down now but it is still no where near my previous levels.

It has been fun to see so many people come to my site to check out a post. Some people seem to be clicking on some of the links in the post, as well. Hopefully they are making a little extra money or, better yet, maybe some of the ideas spurred them to think of some even better ones for themselves.

Not many are sticking around though

My RSS subscriptions have gone up from 13 to almost 50 – so that is pretty sweet (except for the fact that  only a minuscule percentage of all the visitors are finding the site "sticky.")

Here’s the 46th way to earn some extra money

I’ve already found the 46th way: Jury duty. I was finally called to my first jury duty appearance on Monday. I was somewhat dreading it at first, but by the time I got to the courthouse, I was actually looking forward to experiencing the process. I never got to find out if I’d be selected for the jury though. Just before we were to be taken down to the courtroom, the judge came in to the jury assembly room and told us the case had been settled at the last moment. Honestly, I admit that I was a little disappointed. Oh well, I still get my $30 for showing up. $30 for about 1.5 hours isn’t going to send me into retirement, but it’s not too shabby!

On to this week’s links

I’m finally getting my head above water and getting back to reading blogs like I used to before starting BFN. I have two new projects in the works, though, so we’ll see how well I can keep up with it.

Enough about me and my little blog, lets go to the good stuff…

Have a great weekend and God bless…

Biblical Financial Lesson from the Book of Acts

August 28, 2008 · Filed Under Biblical Lessons · 7 Comments 

I’ve heard over the years of the importance of spending "quiet time" with God through prayer or study or whatever. So, near the end of last year I started reading my bible for at least 15 minutes each weekday .  I don’t do anything fancy; I usually read a chapter a day. I try to read through the chapter a time or two to try to understand it. Then I’ll go through it one more time while reading the commentary.

Bibles

Why do you care about this? (You don’t) I thought it would be interesting to try to pull out some relevant information or advice or whatever I can find from each book as I read it. Don’t worry, I realize this is a personal finance blog so I’ll pull items that relate to finances. I just finished the book of Acts, so let’s start with that.

A lot happens in Acts

Acts details the events of the very early church starting when Jesus ascended to heaven through the next few decades – so there is a lot of meat in there. I want to point out a story from chapter 19 of Acts.

People like money….a lot

This isn’t a new phenomenon, of course. If you start reading in verse 23 you will read the story of a silversmith from Ephesus name Demetrius. It seems that Demetrius has a pretty good business going selling silver shrines of Artemis who is local god quite popular Ephesus. Of course we have a problem since Paul is preaching the gospel and converting many Ephesians to Christianity. This does not sit well with Demetrius:

He [Demetrius] called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said: "Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty." Acts 19:23-27

Now, I’m reading between the lines, of course, but I do not think Demetrius was overly concerned with Paul besmirching the good name of Artemis. He stuck that part on the end of his argument after starting by mentioning the "good income from this business."

So what do Demetrius and his fellow silversmiths do?

They don’t start talking about job retraining, that’s for sure. They literally whip up a riot:

When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and rushed as one man into the theater. Acts 19:28-29

The funny part is that most people don’t even know why they are rioting:

The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there. Acts 19:32

Well, eventually the city clerk calmed the crowd and then they dispersed. But if things would have continued out of control who knows what might have happened to Paul’s companions and himself.

So the love of money really is a problem

When you think about money, there are probably two oft-repeated verses that come to mind:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. 1 Timothy 6:10a

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. Matthew 6:24

This tale from the book of Acts is a cautionary one. It shows us how we can become so preoccupied with money that we resort to horrible acts if that money or our ability to get more of it is jeopardized. We should reflect on this story and ponder what applications it has in our lives.

From 1 Timothy, we see that money itself is not evil but rather the love of it is what causes us to act inappropriately. Everyone must earn money to take care of their needs and those of their family members. Having money is not a bad thing. Obviously, resorting to violence, as in this story, to protect your source of income is a problem. Consider, however, other ways that this love of money may cause us to act.

Well, I don’t have to worry about that – I’ve never whipped up a riot

Do you gossip or slander the person who is up for the promotion you want? Are you envious of those around you with bigger houses or nicer cars? Are you "creative" when you complete your tax returns? People don’t do these and similar actions because they love other people; they do them because they love money.

Well, this turned into a lot more "moralizing" that I had originally intended. I’ll try harder next time to just present an interesting story with some financial implications. Isn’t it true, though, that our finances and our behavior tend to be more closely tied together than we would probably want to be the case?

PS: One last thing – I usually do a book review on Thursdays – did anyone miss the review this week? (I’m still trying to find what works best here!)

photo credit: Paul Keller

Making Money Spotlight: Using CashCrate to Earn Some Extra Money

August 26, 2008 · Filed Under Making Money · 22 Comments 

I recently created a post listing 45 ways to make some extra money. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it generated a lot of traffic to the site. With 45 different ideas listed, however, I couldn’t spend a lot of time going into detail on many of the ideas (none of the ideas, actually). So, I thought it would be useful to go into a bit more depth on some of the easiest ideas to generate some extra money online.

The easiest of the opportunities from the making money online section of that post are:

Out of these, I am most familiar with CashCrate so I want to spotlight using it in this post.

Overview of CashCrate

Maybe they added more offers recently or maybe I just missed the good stuff earlier, but now there seems to be some worthwhile offers on the site.  When I first signed up for CashCrate, I poked around the site a little bit and tried out a small offer just to check it out.  I have to be honest, I wasn’t overly impressed by the opportunities presented by CashCrate at that time. The offers available today are much better, however.

CashCrate offers cash awards as well as points.  You simply complete the offers as specified, click on the Submit button back on the CashCrate site, and your account will be updated with "Pending earnings."  When CashCrate has confirmed that you fulfilled the offer, the money will be moved over to your Earnings column.  They have a very low payout threshold – you only have to earn $10 to get a check from them the following month.

Focus on the significant offers

There are a number of small offers of below $1.00 – basically you sign up to be on various email mailing lists and CashCrate will give you a small amount of money.  If you do this, I’d recommend that you create a separate email address.  That way you can keep track of the offers without inundating your standard email address.

To find the highest payout opportunities, sort the offers by "Payout." There are some significant payout options here.  As of this writing, the largest is $125 to sign up for DirectTV.  That’s right, if you sign up for DirectTV, CashCrate will give you $125.  Of course, signing up for DirectTV service is a significant commitment.

Where I think the most value is in the large payout offers (not as large as the DirectTV) that don’t require long-term commitments.  The two categories I look at first are the free product/service trials and the shopping offers.

Earn Money by Signing up for Product and Service Trials

For instance, there are currently a number of product and service trials available for which CashCrate will pay you for signing up for the trial.  Some of the trials do cost a little bit of money, but a number are free.  I’m not suggesting signing up for a bunch of stuff that you have no interest in just to get a few dollars.  If you are interested in trying a service like NetFlix or Blockbuster, however, I think it makes sense to do it through CashCrate and earn a little money for your efforts.

Get Cash back while Shopping

Similarly, if you are planning on doing some internet shopping, I think it makes sense to check out CashCrate on your way to see if there are any offers to get a little money back while shopping.  Just tonight I purchased an item and got $10 back from CashCrate for doing so.  There are some offers for cash back in the offers section (like my $10 offer) and there is also an entire section on shopping (this provides a percentage of the purchase price back).  It isn’t a huge section, but it does have some big names there like ITunes, Office Depot, and Wal-Mart among others.

A word of caution, please do not go around buying stuff you don’t want or don’t need just to "earn" some money.  You’re not really earning anything – you’re just "spending" money.  But, if you are doing some shopping anyway, then you might as well reduce your overall cost by using a service like CashCrate.  [Another similar service that is geared strictly toward shopping is Ebates.com – I think they have more shopping options.  Again, shopping is spending money, NOT making money.  If you spend $50 you weren’t planning to spend to make $10, you’ve just wasted $40!]

Make Money through Referrals

Another method to make some money is to refer others to CashCrate.  For each person you refer, CashCrate gives you a percentage of what they earn and also a bonus when they make some money.  If some of your friends sign up through your affiliate program, then both of you will make some extra money.

My Summary of using CashCrate

So far, I have been pleasantly surprised with my CashCrate experience. I have made some money while exerting very little effort.  And I was really excited to see that I could get $10 back from a $23 purchase that I was going to buy anyway!  Certainly I’m not expecting to replace my current salary with my CashCrate earnings but every little bit helps.  If you complete some higher payout offers (without spending too much money in the process) and have some of your friends sign up through your referral link, you’ll be able to make some extra spending money each month.

Signing up for CashCrate is free so my suggestion to you would be to sign up and check it out .  Check out the FAQs on the lower left corner on the front page for more info.  Look through the cash payouts focusing on the higher payout values first.  I think you will probably see some that are interesting to you.  If not, then you can just leave the site and never return again.  But please, do not waste a bunch of money just to get a little bit back.  Also, and this is very important, if you sign up for the free trials, do not forget to cancel them before the "free" part ends if you aren’t satisfied with the value provided.

If you have any bad experiences with CashCrate, I would really like to hear about them.  I have had a good experience so far, but I don’t want to be endorsing a service with which others are having problems.  Please leave a comment or contact me directly.

Is Giving Really that Important?

August 26, 2008 · Filed Under Giving, PF Basics · 7 Comments 

We’re delving into step 2 on my list of Personal Finance Basics and it is a controversial one – give away some of the money you earned in step 1. Certainly some people would argue with me on this step. "Why would you want to give some of your hard earned money away? You’ve worked so hard to get it. Certainly, you should at least get out of debt before you start giving. You should save your money and invest it – when you have a lot of money to help others, then you can worry about this giving stuff."

Well, I’m going to have to disagree with those who would say that…let me tell you why. (you might be thinking about now, "uh oh, here comes more of that church and Bible stuff," and, if you are thinking that then you are correct. Even if you’re not interested in using Biblical principles to guide your life, please stick around. At the bottom of the post, I’ll provide a few secular reasons to give)

Why should I give before any of the other personal finance stuff?

Quite simply, you should give some of your money away because we are instructed to do so in the Bible. Of course, there are numerous Old Testament passages regarding tithes and offerings. And remember, these passages are directed towards all people – not just the wealthy or the ones who have managed to get out of debt. I think everyone should give what they can no matter what situation they find themselves. If you can only give a little, then give a little. If you can give more, then give more. Remember, God doesn’t ask you to give because he needs the money, so don’t worry about not having much to give. I think God instructs us to give for the following reasons, among others:

  • Giving shifts our focus from the temporal to the eternal – It is quite easy for us to get caught up in our current situations and get distracted from our focus on God and the eternal. Purposefully and periodically giving money (which most of us deem important and find hard to do) shifts our focus from ourselves to God. At the same time, we trade our earthly treasures that are so dear yet so fleeting for heavenly treasures that are eternal.

But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:20-21

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. Matthew 6:24

  • Giving shifts our focus from ourselves to others – As people, we are naturally selfish and self-absorbed. It requires effort to place others before ourselves. Giving causes us to look outside of ourselves and our day to day concerns. As a result, we learn about others and are exposed to the difficulties other people have in their lives. Not only does giving help out other people, but it also helps us as well by enabling us to be content with our current situation. It’s hard to complain about how much it costs to fill up your car with gas when you are giving your money to people who not only don’t have a car but don’t even have enough money for food.
  • Giving typically results in material blessing and increase – This is the quite counterintuitive but it appears to be true. Check out this verse from Proverbs:

One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. Proverbs 11:24-25

This verse teaches that being generous towards others actually results in our own prosperity. I don’t think this is some guaranteed contract and I do think it only occurs if you have the correct attitude in giving. If you are begrudingly giving some money because you think you’ll get more money in return, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that probably won’t come to fruition.

On the other hand, here are some personal stories from ChristianPF and Capital Couples Finance via Gather Little By Little about how tithing affected their financial situations. My wife and I have regularly given a set percentage of our income since we got married. We continued this even while paying back huge amounts of student loans and somehow (I’m seriously not sure how it all came to pass so quickly) we have paid off all of our student loans decades before they were scheduled to be paid off.

How much should you give?

How much of your income to give is quite controversial as well. I really believe that amount is between you and God – there is no correct answer for all Christ followers. I’ll put some of my thoughts out here as a starting point to the discussion but these are only my opinions.

The most important component is your attitude.

image by Phillie Casablanca

If you are just giving money because you feel you have to, well, that’s alright because at least you are doing it to be obedient to God, but I do feel that you are still missing out on some of the associated benefits and blessings. On the other hand, if you are giving so others will tell you how great you are, then you are really missing out. You’ll get your reward, but it will be from a few people and not from God:

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. Matthew 6:5

Shouldn’t I give 10%?

In the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to give a tithe, or tenth, of their possessions and income. I personally do think that it directly applies as a command to Christians.

Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7

Though I do not feel bound by the tithe, I do think it is a good starting point for investigating how much of your income you feel led to give.

To whom should I give it?

Some people feel that your minimum tithe amount should be given to your home church and then whatever monies above and beyond that should be given to others in need. Personally, I don’t ascribe to this philosophy either. I believe that the Christ’s church is more than just a building with four walls; rather it is the collection of all Christ followers throughout the world. As such, I think we honor God by giving to wherever God’s work is being done.

For instance, we personally give 10% of our gross income (I don’t think that I should give less money to God when I do a better job of using tax deductions). We give the majority of this to our local church, but we also support a few organizations and directly support some missionaries.

What if you don’t believe in all this church stuff?

If you don’t believe in all this church stuff, I am really impressed that you made it this far into the post (sure, you probably just skipped ahead, but I’ll be optimistic). I still think it is important to give your money to others. Obviously, you won’t have the same reasons for giving as those described above. I do think it can be a worthwhile endeavor for a few reasons:

  • Give to help others – You can make a real difference in a person’s life by giving them a helping hand when they need it.
  • You can make the world a better place – direct your resources to people that need help and you improve their situation and make the world a slightly better place. Repeat this process and who knows how far you can get.
  • It feels good to help others – you generally get great satisfaction from knowing you reached out to a fellow human being and made things a little brighter for them. Don’t believe me? Try it sometime and see what happens.

photo credits: Daquella manera and Phillie Casablanca

Online Tools for Calculating and Tracking Your Net Worth

August 25, 2008 · Filed Under Net Worth · 15 Comments 

Last week, I created a post that included some video describing how I create and update a spreadsheet to keep track of my net worth. I find a simple spreadsheet to be the most powerful way for me to monitor my net worth. Of course, I understand that not everyone is exactly like me (probably a good thing) and that others will not find the same method as useful.

In the short life of BFN, I’ve already stated multiple times the importance of using net worth to track how healthy your finances are and what their current trend is. Today, therefore, I thought it would be helpful to list some other methods for tracking net worth. These methods are all online (so no Quicken or MS Money) and all free (thereby precluding Quicken online, for instance).

Simple calculators

Calculating your net worth is quite simple as long as you have all the data – it just requires some simple addition and subtraction. You can easily find myriad calculator choices using a simple web search. Type in something like "net worth calcuator" and results will be displayed such as CNN’s calculator and Kiplinger’s calculator.

Though these are straightforward and easy to use, I don’t feel that they are as useful as other tools. Simply calculating your net worth will not provide you with historical data and allow you to see how your finances are behaving over time. If you are going to calculate your net worth periodically and save the data somewhere, then you might as well use a spreadsheet .

Online Net Worth Tracking

The first site that comes to mind when I think of online tools to track net worth is NetworthIQ.com. NetworthIQ is a "social personal finance manager" that lets you "track, share, compare" your net worth with other users. You periodically enter your assets and liabilities to keep track of where you are financially and where you’ve come from.

The unique feature of this site is the ability to compare your net worth with other users. You can search for other users by age, income, occupation, education, etc. This allows you to see how your net worth compares to others earning your same salary, or in your same occupation, for instance. As an option, you can select to share your financial picture with other users of the site as well.

Online Net Worth and Transaction Tracking

While NetworthIQ focuses on your net worth, other online tools go beyond net worth to include a more complete financial picture. These tools allow you to aggregate all of your various account information (checking, savings, credit cards, loans, etc) into a single application. Of course, it calculates net worth but will also give you more detail on exactly how you are spending your money on a monthly basis. A very nice feature of these sites is that once you configure all of your account usernames and passwords, updating your net worth each month requires nothing more than visiting the site and clicking the refresh or update link. The site then automatically visits all of your account sites and collects your up-to-date account information.

The three most prominent sites that I have found are Yodlee , Geezeo , and Wesabe . They are somewhat similar in how they work and the data they collect and display. Each has the capability to calculate net worth, display categorized monthly expenses, and provide budgeting capability. As I see it, there are two main differences among the three sites.

First, Wesabe and Geezeo integrate a social component into the site. You can share information with other users, you can ask for tips and information, and you can see what others have done in similar situations. This can be very powerful in assisting you to create and stick to your financial plan.

This feature can actually be good or bad, frankly. Allow me to relate a story (or just skip to the next paragraph and I’ll never know the difference). When I first found out about Wesabe, I was so excited about it. I thought it was going to be a fantastic tool to really optimize my finances. I created an account and put in my first main goal as getting rid of my student loans. Wow, it was quite disillusioning when most of the comments pertaining to that goal were about how it was stupid to worry about paying off student loans. ("good" debt and low interest rate and all of that). Honestly, I haven’t been back to that account since then.

The second main difference is found in the way security is handled. Security is obviously of paramount importance when you’re talking about usernames and passwords to all your financial accounts. For Geezeo and Yodlee, you upload your account information to their servers. Wesabe is a bit different, though. As I understand it, you download some software to your computer. That application stores your account information and transfers your account data to your computer and then up to the Wesabe server. In this manner, your account information is never uploaded to the Wesabe servers and that presents one less security risk.

Seriously, the security of your personal financial information is of critical importance. Before you disclose any of it to any of these sites, it is very important you investigate exactly how they collect your data and how they protect it so that you feel comfortable providing the information.

Your bank may offer a similar feature

Another place to look for a net worth tracking feature is your bank if they provide online banking. I have my main checking account at a "brick and mortar" bank that also has a good online banking component. Integrated into the online banking site is an application similar to Yodlee (I think it actually is Yodlee). I can add the accounts not held at my bank and use this tool to calculate net worth and track monthly expenses just like in Yodlee. If you are looking for an online tool to calculate net worth, this is something to investigate. If you are using it, your online banking site already has some or most of your financial information. So, if you can get the desired functionality there, it doesn’t make sense to unnecessarily upload your financial information to another site.

I’ll stick to my spreadsheet

My advice to you is to track your net worth. If you’re still listening for more advice, my next piece is to use a spreadsheet. Of course, if you want to utilize some of the transaction tracking and categorization features or social networking aspects, then a spreadsheet won’t be of much help to you. On the other hand, there are no security issues with the spreadsheet as it is on your computer and does not contain your account information anyway. Furthermore, a spreadsheet can be configured in a very powerful manner to allow you to pull more information out of your net worth updates rather than just the bottom line net worth number.

I am considering using the Yodlee-like feature of my bank to automatically update my financial information each month. I will then transfer this information to my spreadsheet. Using the tool in this way may save me a little time each month and allow me to look at the current status throughout the month.

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