Social Media Revisited: Is It ENCOURAGING Your Productivity?

Well, Mr. Saver and I broke down and got new cell phones, which only cost us $20 for both (with no activation fees). However, we did upgrade to the “lite” data plan, something we’ve never had before, for $10 for each phone line per month. I guess we got tired of seeing all of our friends posting on Facebook and Twitter or searching for the answer to some random trivia question none of us knew while we stood there helplessly.

Social media has definitely burrowed its way into our collective lives and seems to have some staying power.

According to Wikipedia’s entry on social media,

Social networking now accounts for 11 percent of all time spent online in the US. A total of 234 million people age 13 and older in the U.S. used mobile devices in December 2009. Twitter processed more than one billion tweets in December 2009 and averages almost 40 million tweets per day. Over 25% of U.S. internet page views occurred at one of the top social networking sites in December 2009, up from 13.8% a year before.

I find these statistics amazing, but not unrealistic. So how does all this online social interaction affect our productivity at work and home? If people are tethered to their smartphones and computers, does social media negatively affect their work ethic?

As I mentioned in a post back in December, Is Social Media Killing Your Productivity & Earning Potential?, social media can be a major time-waster. Instead of working and being productive, they’re telling the world what they’re having for lunch or complaining about how cold it is in the office (something we’ve all been guilty of at one time or another).

Some people actually become more productive through social media. How about those folks who find new clients or a new job through Twitter or Linked In? The networking potential of these sites is staggering.

Then there’s the other way around — when companies use social media tactics to reach out to customers and clients and increase brand-awareness.

Either way, integrating social media into your business plan is a good idea, as long as it doesn’t become a time suck that takes away from your money-making adventures.

You also don’t have to use social media 24/7 to get the most out of it, especially now that there are programs that allow you to schedule tweets and posts. But it’s still important to interact in real time with your followers and fans, in order to better connect with them. Just make sure you schedule this ‘social’ time into your work schedule to ensure you don’t get off track.

What’s interesting is that there are some studies that claim that workers who take a ‘brain break’ and participate in social media usage during office hours actually INCREASE their productive by 9% or more. Of course, this contradicts all the studies that claim businesses lose a ton of money due to workers being UNDERPRODUCTIVE due to overuse of social media.

Perhaps you just have to know whether social media usage will benefit you. Do you think you’re more productive when using Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, or less?

Don’t Lose Your Shirt: Back-to-School Savings Tips

Remember when you were a kid, the entire summer seemed to stretch forever? Well, at least until you started seeing and hearing commercials for back-to-school sales. If you were like me, you couldn’t wait to get new supplies like Jansport backpacks, Trapper Keepers, notebooks, Lisa Frank folders, pens and pencils (okay, I’m dating myself here — I did eventually move on to binders).

To be honest, I never owned a Jansport backpack, although I’ll fess up to having a Trapper Keeper or two and lots of unicorn-plastered Lisa Frank folders. Instead, I went to Woolworth’s with my $20 bill and got a backpack for about $15, and it lasted me a few years. The big secret? I still own both of my high school backpacks, and Mr. Saver uses one in the summer to carry his stuff when we trek “down the shore.”

Instead of spending a ton of money on back-to-school supplies and clothing, plan ahead and shop smart.

Check the Circulars

Since early July, I’ve been seeing tons of back-to-school sales advertised in my Sunday newspaper (yes, those still exist, my friends).  There are some incredible deals in there – one local drugstore has a coupon this week for 10 one-subject notebooks for 1 cent! All you have to do is clip the coupon and show up. Staples also has similar deals for pencils.

Most stores offer coupons of some sort — the kind you have to physically clip out and bring with you — but the discounts are worth it in the end.

Shop During “Sales Tax Holidays”

At certain times of the year, such as Christmas and before school starts, major cities, such as Miami, offer sales tax-free shopping days. Take advantage of these periods and get your clothes and supplies, minus the sales tax. This is especially advantageous for those who have a number of children who need back-to-school stuff.

Get Clothes on the Cheap

Bargain-basement prices can be had if you wait a few weeks after school starts before shopping for clothes. By mid-September, the fall styles are already hitting the discount rack, so bide your time and then attack the clearance sales with gusto!

Alternately, you can choose to shop at discount retailers. Many years my clothes came from Kmart, and while not extremely fashionable, they were new. Right now, I’ve found that Kohl’s almost always sends coupons in the mail ranging from 15% to 30% off your entire purchase (no restrictions) if you’re a Kohl’s credit card holder. Just make sure you pay off the balance in full to avoid finance charges.

Or check out thrift shops and consignment stores. You never know what you’ll find in there — and it won’t cost you full retail price, either.

Don’t Pay Full Price for Books

In college? Nothing hurts your budget more than the high price of textbooks in the college bookstore. If you have time before classes begin, search out cheaper alternatives such as Half.com, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Sometimes you can even score a great deal on a new or used textbook on eBay. Just make sure it’s the right edition requested by your professor.

Or try to buy your books from fellow students who are done using them. It’s bound to be cheaper than buying them used from the bookstore. I know it always was for me back in the day.

Take Control of Your Finances — Today!

Yes, you can take control of your finances. No matter how out of control your debt has spiraled, or how high your interest rates are, or how much you still owe on your school loans. It IS possible. But you have to take the first step and actually do something about it.

The personal finance community on the big ol’ Interwebs is a great place to find other people in your shoes. Or discover inspirational stories about people who took second (or third) jobs in order to pay off their debt as quickly as possible.

To me, there’s no such thing as good debt — you either owe money, or you don’t. While some debt may be beneficial to a point — if you’re trying to build your credit history or you’re financing a car (new or used) to get you to and from your job — in the end, it’s still debt. And paying it off can be the most infinitely satisfying thing in the world. I know in the past I’ve had a few instances where I’ve racked up a few thousand in consumer debt on my credit cards due to unforeseen circumstances, and I know the satisfaction that comes with zeroing out the balance.

That being said, the longer you put off getting a handle on your debt, the worse it will be — but it’s never too late. Feeling lost about how to get the ball rolling? Whether your debt is in the hundreds or the hundreds of thousands, there are certain steps you need to follow in order to start your trip down the road to financial freedom.

Tally Up Your Debt

It’s best to get the scary stuff over with first, right? Instead of thinking, “Oh, I only owe $5,000 on my Chase credit card and $20,000 on my deferred school loans,” add it all up to get that great, big number. If seeing a total debt load of $80,000 (or whatever your total is) doesn’t motivate you to eliminate debt, almost nothing else will. Then use that number every time you think about how much debt you’re in.

For my husband and I, we have no consumer debt. But we do have a car financed at 0% for another four years and 29 years left on our 30-year mortgage at 5%. Knowing those big numbers are still out there keeps me motivated to make extra payments when possible and stay away from accruing any consumer debt.

Figure Out Where the Money Goes & Act Accordingly

How did you get into that much debt to begin with? Car, school and mortgage loans are pretty self-explanatory, but what about all the discretionary spending you do on a day-to-day basis? If you don’t have a checkbook where you record your transactions, keep a personal spending log for a month, writing down everything you spend money on. Either whip up a spreadsheet of your own or use finance-tracking sites such as Mint.com to get a breakdown of where the money has been going. If you’re spending $20 a day on food, $5 on Starbucks coffee and $10 on lottery tickets, you know what to do — cut down on these purchases, if not eliminate them completely.

Set Up a Budget

This is an alien concept to some people, but it’s the best way to track your spending and stay within your financial limits moving forward. Total up your net income and then outline your monthly expenses, such as rent/mortgage payments, utility costs, credit card payments and grocery spending. Subtract that from your net income. What’s left is the money you probably spend like water throughout the month. Instead of leaving it there, ripe for the pickings, set up an automatic withdrawal to suck it into a savings account, or allocate it for additional debt repayment.

Most importantly, do not add to your debt! If you don’t have the cash on hand for that purchase, don’t make it. Instead, put a line in your budget and save up for that item. It’s much more satisfying to pay in cash, trust me.

Begin an Emergency Fund & Start Snowballing

I put these two together because I’m a strong believer in the need for an emergency fund, even if it means you’ll be putting less money toward your debt for a short while. If you already have an emergency fund with a few thousand dollars in it, count yourself as prepared and move on to the debt snowball. But if not, divert some of the money earmarked for paying off your debt to the EF until you’ve got a good amount in there.

For your debt snowball, you can do it one of two ways: pay off the balances in order from smallest to largest, or pay off the debt with the highest interest rate. While you might get more satisfaction from paying off smaller debts first, I like to go with the highest interest rate version. As you watch that total debt number begin spiraling downward, you’ll see how satisfying it is to get your finances under control.

Being completely debt-free may not be completely attainable — especially when it comes to mortgages — but you can lessen the burden and get a better grip on your finances.

Avoid These Car Dealership Tricks and Scams

Next to a home, a car might be the second-most expensive purchase you ever make. When I bought my car new more than 6 years ago, I was lucky in that my father had been dealing with the same salesperson and dealership for nearly 15 years (RIP, Pontiac!). But even if you think you can put your trust in the person selling you a car, be aware that you’ll need to be cognizant of the games that other people might play in order to get you to fork out more money.

When it comes time to make a deal, in addition to the salesperson, you’ll be working with the dealership’s general manager and finance department. Very rarely will you find someone who has your best interests at heart – they’re just trying to sell you a car while making the most money on the deal that they can. There’s a fine line between a sales pitch and a scam in these cases (unless you find a good-hearted salesperson). Sales are a cutthroat business, and you should go into negotiations knowing as much as you can in order to not get ripped off.

Know how much you want to spend in total. It helps to know how much you want to spend on a monthly payment, but unscrupulous salespeople will seize that number and twist it so that in the end, while you’re only paying the amount you wanted each month, you could be paying an exorbitant amount of interest.

If the purchase price of a used car is $10,000 and you say you only want to pay $250/month, it would take 40 months at 0% interest (not a likely scenario). At 15% interest, the monthly payment would only be $237, but it will take 60 months to pay off the loan, which will total $14,273 — an extra $4,273 over the purchase price.

Also keep in mind that you’ll likely have sales tax, title and registration fees to pay, too. They can be rolled into your finance payment or paid separately – but they’ll still cost you money in addition to the purchase price of the vehicle.

There are a number of tricks and scams that unscrupulous car dealership salespeople use on unsuspecting buyers who are only there to buy a car, whether new or used.

A Few Common Deceptive Practices

“The Financing Fell Through”

TRICK: If you don’t have fantastic credit (think 700+), you may be ripe for the picking on this one. The finance department will first approve you for a loan at a sweet, low APR. Sure, you’ll sign the paperwork and drive away with your new car. But then days later, that little “subject to loan approval” clause on the sales contract comes back to bite you in the butt. The dealership calls to tell you that no, you didn’t get that great APR, so you’ll have to pony up more money per month to cover the high interest rate you’ll now be charged.

FIX: If you have crappy credit, do your homework first and find outside financing on your own. Chances are, you’ll be able to get a much better interest rate through your bank or credit union. If you do want to finance through the dealer, wait until you’ve gotten approved for the loan to take delivery of the car.

“Your Credit Score is Too Low”

TRICK: You’re at the dealership, and the finance manager pulls your credit score. He tells you it’s 600, when you know for a fact it’s 740. He then advises you that in order to finance the vehicle, your APR would be 12.9% instead of the 0% you thought you qualified for.

FIX: Show up to the dealership with your credit report in tow to refute the “fake” credit score. Then ask for an EVEN BETTER deal. If you’re not comfortable working out a deal with a dealership that’s already displayed its true colors, head to another car dealer.

“We’ll Pay Off Your Lease/Loan”

TRICK: The newspaper advertisement said the car dealer will pay off the remaining balance on your loan or lease agreement – no matter how much you owe. Sounds too good to be true, right? It is. Basically, you’ll be paying for TWO cars. The dealer will pay the balance for you, but you’ll have to repay the dealer. So if you still owe $8,000 on your car or lease, it will just get tacked on to the purchase price of the new vehicle you’ll be leaving the dealership lot with. Instead of financing $20,000 for your new car, you’ll have to finance $28,000. AND you’ll be paying interest on all that, most likely. They might try to spread it out over 5 or 6 years (instead of shorter 3 or 4-year loan terms) to trick you into seeing the monthly payment is “lower.”

FIX: Stay in your current lease or wait until you pay off your loan before heading to the dealer for a new car. Going to check out this “deal” will make them think you’re desperate and in financial trouble – which you may just be. If you can’t pay off the old car, what makes you think you should be buying a new car just yet?

These are only a few of the ways some dealerships try to scam car buyers out of their hard-earned money. And especially in this economy, you don’t want to become a victim. If a “deal” doesn’t sound like it adds up, it probably doesn’t. If you’re unsure, tell the salesperson you need time to think about it, and you’ll get back to them. If they won’t honor the price the next day, it’s time to move on to another dealer.

Make Money Freelancing — Through Networking

No matter what your field, if you want to become a freelancer, you can’t just wait for the jobs to come to you. You’ve got to market yourself and get on potential clients’ radars. How will they know you have a skill that may be of use to them if you don’t?

It’s all about networking. Making connections with other professionals in your field is the best way to get clients who offer paying gigs. They can also offer professional advice and point new freelancers who need a little help in the right direction.

In this world, image is everything. There are a few things that freelancers can do to make themselves more marketable.

1. Get on Twitter and LinkedIn. Thanks to social media network Twitter, I was able to hook up with someone who could use my services. Communicating in 140-character increments graduated to e-mails, and we’ve established a good working relationship. It all started with one assignment, and now, I’m asked to do other freelance work. Don’t underestimate the power of social media, which is becoming quite a popular way to communicate with others. Join up and possibly find paying gigs.

2. Start a website. This is a no-brainer. The Internet is where it’s at nowadays. And what better way to show off your talents than on a page that could potentially be seen by hundreds of thousands of people? Be sure to have a portfolio on the website in order to show off your best work. If potential clients see what they like, they’ll be more apt to contact you than if they have to ask for samples of your work.

3. Get a dedicated phone number, e-mail address and business cards. Decide if you need a new cell phone or landline number for your freelance business. A separate phone numbers and e-mail address can help keep business separate from pleasure. Business cards are also great to have, as they can be passed to potential clients that you meet while networking — or in the event that you meet a potential client while out and about.

4. Become familiar with industry websites. For writing, there are a number of websites out there that offer tips and information about how to find paying freelance jobs. It helps to know where to look. Some even have job boards where clients post ads for freelancers to fulfill their needs.

5. Join a professional organization. Find out which are well-regarded in your field and add yourself to their membership rolls — but only join groups if you’ll have time to participate in them. These organizations tend to have meet-and-greets with other freelancers and professionals. For example, if you’re a writer (I have to go with what I know here), you can meet other writers and editors who may be able to point you in the direction of a potential client.

6. Attend professional events. Bloggers and social media professionals have conferences such as BlogHer and South by Southwest (SXSW), and there are similar conferences, lectures and networking events for others. You don’t have to be a full-time worker to get into these events, but often you do need to be a part of the organization sponsoring them, or have to sign up and pay a fee. But the chance to make connections within your industry — and meet potential clients — is usually well worth the cost.

7. Talk to people at other events. If you’re attending at a wedding or at a business dinner, keep those business cards on you — you may just strike up a conversation with someone who needs your services after the usual “What do you do for a living” banter.

Personality and Success (or Failure)

There’s a creepy guy in our office building at work who has been regularly freaking us out for a few years now. All we know is that he doesn’t work in our company. He has some strange habits, not the least of which is a staring problem. For example, if you’re walking up the stairs while he’s walking down, he’ll all but trip and fall to twist his body 90 degrees to look at you once you pass him. If you’re REALLY lucky, you’ll get a short, squeaky “hi” as you pass. And it’s times like these that make me glad I’m a woman, because I’ve heard he’s got some wandering eyes in the men’s room, too.

We never see him with anyone in the hallways. He takes walks around the building’s parking lot on his lunch hour. As far as I know, there’s been no sighting of a cell phone, and his car is pretty nondescript. He’s always alone.

That leads me to believe he’s not in a position of leadership in his company. With severely lacking social skills, how could he possibly be a manager or, even more laughably, a CEO?

Personality & Success

While I don’t know for sure what position Creepy Guy holds in his company, I do know that personality has to do with how much success you have in life, both personally and professionally.

I think most of us would agree that you need to be personable, be able to communicate effectively and make hard decisions in order to move up in the professional world. If you’re a hothead, unless you’re pulling in a ton of money for your company, you probably won’t be finding your way up the corporate ladder anytime soon — or you may find yourself on the unemployment line instead.

Examine Your Personality

If you’re antisocial, you’re definitely going to have a problem gaining and maintaining employment. You need to get out there and go on interviews in order to get a job. And most positions require interaction with others, whether they be your co-workers or customers.

If you’re introverted, perhaps you’re not making as much of a splash in the office. You’ll likely be passed over for promotions and your earning potential could be severely limited.

If you’re the type who has severe social awkwardness, don’t count on climbing the corporate ladder. You need to be able to make (and maintain) social connections. Think networking.

But if you’re a true go-getter who likes to “make things happen,” this tends to bring you success. A heaping helping of strong work ethic and the ability to get along with others — and not use them or walk all over them — are the keys to success.

We can all make changes for the better when it comes to personality. While I don’t advocate being downright fake, sometimes you need to finesse your interactions with others at work or in personal relationships in order to make more meaningful connections with others. Who knows — maybe you’ll be up for that promotion thanks to a change in the way you present yourself, or you’ll get along better with your co-workers, making for a more pleasant working environment.

Lazy Is as Lazy Does

There are so many things that are calling out to me to get done around the house, yet I’ve somehow slipped into lazy summer mode. All I want to do is sip some lemonade, get some sun (without melting from temps in the upper 90s the past two weeks) and relax.

A co-worker jokes that “lazy” for me is probably more like a normal day for him. I know, I know — I don’t like to sit still. But occasionally, it truly does happen. I can follow your definition of a nice, lazy day of doing nothing, Carlo!

But what I really need to do is give this house a thorough cleaning. That, and we need to get the spackler back here to finish the job he started a month ago. My father-in-law recommended the guy, but his appearances have been few and far between, much to my chagrin. He showed up twice while we were on vacation at the end of June, but has only been back twice since then — and there’s another coat and sanding that needs to get done before we can move on to painting. And if you know me well, you know I don’t abide folks who don’t do things in a timely manner — and don’t show up when they say they’re going to show up.

So for now, I’m waiting impatiently, but biting my tongue. It’s not an easy task, since I’ve become an outspoken person in my old age.  Mark my words, I won’t be hiring this guy again, nor will I be recommending him to anyone else.

All I can think about right now is the fact that after this room is (finally) completed, we’ll need to finish the rest of the second floor, which includes a small hallway, full bathroom and another bedroom (which is the one we’re in right now). We’ll have to move all our stuff into the renovated room and then tackle everything else. It’s taken 9 months to get this far, with the help of Mr. Saver, my father-in-law, and especially my dad and brother, who have spent many a Saturday here working their asses off — THANK YOU! — and it will be wonderful to have it finished. But besides gutting the rooms and painting them at the end, I think we’re gonna leave the rest to the professionals this time.

Oh, and there’s the kitchen, too, which needs to be painted. I had gotten some samples and made my choice of color, but the can of paint has been sitting there throughout this heatwave — even I’m not that much of a glutton for punishment.

So here’s to being lazy — at least, as lazy as I get, in my world. I think it’s time to sit in the yard, sun myself and sip on that glass of lemonade.

The Pros and Cons of Online Savings Accounts

This post was written by PT, who blogs about things like savings accounts and the best cash-back credit cards on his blog, PT Money.

I’m a big fan of using online savings accounts to help you save for emergencies or any short-term needs you might have. On the surface, they appear to be just like a normal savings account, thus, I believe, people haven’t felt compelled to make the move to save their money there. And with the recent collapse in savings interest rates, they appear to have lost their luster. However, I think moving your savings online still has it’s merits. Here’s my list of pros and cons of online savings:

The Cons of Online Savings

Change – Simply put, unless you’re brand-new to the banking world, opening up a new bank account isn’t something you think to do. And it’s not necessarily on the top of any one’s bucket list, either. It only takes around 15 minutes to open an account and a wait of 2 or 3 days, but that’s usually enough of a barrier for people to say, “Eh, I’ll skip that and go watch some more videos on YouTube.” And if you already have a banking relationship, you likely have auto drafts and direct deposits to contend with before switching to an online bank.

Limitations on Depositing Money – Since online-only banks don’t have a physical branch, making a deposit leaves you scratching your head. Do I mail it in? Do I deposit at another bank and then transfer the funds in? These banks are doing a lot to combat this problem, but it still exists.

Slow Transfer Time – It takes anywhere from 3 to 5 days to move money from your online bank to another institution. For some people, this is just too long of a wait for what is supposed to be liquid savings.

Low Returns – Let’s face it, the interest rates on online savings account ain’t what they used to be. The rates barely keep up with inflation these days. If your goal is a higher return than 2%, then look somewhere else.

The Pros of Online Savings

No Minimums or Fees – 99% of these online savings accounts don’t have any type of restriction or fee that would negate the benefits of saving. Plus, there are no direct deposit or spending requirements associated with the accounts. Just a simple, fee-free account.

FDIC Insured – These accounts have FDIC insurance just like any other bank account. Your money is safe from a potential bank failure up to $250,000.

Slow Transfer Time – I contend that the slow transfer time of these banks is also a pro for those looking to save more. The time lag creates a natural barrier between you and your savings. You usually won’t spend what you can’t get to quickly.

High Returns – Compared to traditional savings accounts, the mere 2% you get with an online bank is still 4 times better than the average brick-and-mortar savings account.

I think the future of online savings is strong, as many of these cons will disappear with the advances of technology. What’s your opinion?

Finding Fulfillment in Life

Everyone finds their fulfillment in different ways. For ee musings at Musings of an Abstract Aucklander, it will be traveling. For me, it’s nesting, having a home and a family. Who’s to say that one is better than the other? It’s all about what makes each one of us happiest.

ee musings wonders about her priorities — is there more to life than getting an office job, getting married, having children, retiring and worrying about money all the time? She wants to leave her country (New Zealand) and travel. How can she balance being fiscally responsible with the desire to live life to the fullest while young?

I’ve never felt I had to live up to anyone’s expectations, other than the expectation of doing well in school and graduating with a college degree. I wasn’t forced to be an athlete, although I did play softball in the town recreational league when I was younger because I loved the game. No one sat me behind a piano before I could read so I could become a musician; I willingly took piano lessons and learned the violin in school because I loved music. There was no parent hovering above me, drilling these interested into my brain. They were just there, and they fulfilled me.

Depending on who you talk to, I think people see me in one of two ways: Someone who is “settled down,” holding a steady job in a solid career, carefully watching her finances, not taking part in any major hobbies and needing minimal entertainment in her life. On the flip side, there are those who think I’m ambitious, motivated and frank with my opinions — someone who will stand up for what she believes in.

Trying to be someone you’re not will eventually backfire, whether you’re doing it to keep up appearances or to please others. The facade will crumble, and no one will be there to pick up the pieces but you. It will only lead to unhappiness and misery. Finding a happy medium may just be the best way to live a life without reservations.

How You Find Fulfillment in Your Life Is Up to You

Some people search their entire lives for the few things that make them happiest, while others achieve it through their everyday actions.

If you want to be the budgeting queen, then do your thing.

Driven by ambition to be at the top of your field? Go for it.

If you absolutely must take that trip to Europe, plan it today.

Happy to be home surrounded by friends and family, like me? You know what to do.

How we live our lives is an individual choice — no one can tell us how to go about it. There’s no right or wrong way, and your priorities may change over time. As long as you’re responsible with your money, respectful of others and true to yourself, you can’t go wrong.

$25 Visa Gift Card Giveaway Winner Announced

Rainy-Day Saver has teamed up with Snubbr.com to give one lucky reader a $25 Visa Gift Card!

The lucky winner, chosen by Julia from Snubbr.com, is

Daniel Packer of Sweating the Big Stuff

for the following money-saving tip:

My best money saving tip has to be to negotiate everything. There are always people who will trade a few bucks for your business. I save $5 on each haircut because I cut a deal with my barber last year. Plus, what’s the worst that can happen? They’ll say no and you’ll have to pay the regular price?

Thanks to everyone who entered the contest!