$779.13 – Community and Charity 10% Monthly Blog Income Give Back #’s 32-45 – May 2014-May 2015 Edition

The 10% give back giveaway fun rolls on for the month of May 2015.

The past year has been one of major life changes for me. I finished my graduate school degree in August 2014, got married in September, moved to Colorado in November, started a new job in December, and bought a single family home in January 2015. With all of these changes, I have gotten a little behind with running give backs on MPFJ. In fact, my records showed that I haven’t done one since April 2014.

As such, we need to do some catch up! 

In case you missed the first 31 editions of the 10% Blog Income Give Back, after doing some thinking at the beginning of October 2011 about what direction I want this blog to grow and evolve towards in the future, I decided that any income made from this blog would have more significance to me at a personal life values level if I knew that a portion were being given back to the following places:

  • 1) The readers – Obviously, without you here to read my articles and interact with my ideas, there would be no blog in the first place (let alone blog income). As such, it is only fitting that you receive a portion of any blog income.
  • 2) Charitable organizations – If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I’m a big believer in donating a portion of my money to charity. Each year, I donate between 5-10% of my income to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society as part of the Bike for MS fundraiser that I do. Beyond the good that is done by donating your money, getting used to contributing to charity is also a good practice to emulate the actions of affluent individuals (T. Harv Eker discusses this in his book, Secrets of the Millionaire Mind, which I would definitely recommend reading if you have a few hours).

Because of these considerations, I’ve decided that each month going forward, I’m going to give away 10% of my net (after-tax) blogging income/profit to My Personal Finance Journey readers (5%) and to charity (5%). Listed below is a summary of the results we’ve achieved together thus far through this give back effort:

  • After each calendar month passes, I’ll tally up my net blog income and determine what Dollar value correlates to 10%.
  • So far, I’ve been very happy with the success of the October 2011 – April 2014 give backs. Listed below is a summary of what we’ve accomplished so far with the give back effort.
    • Current total given to charity = $2,570
    • Current total given to blog readers = $1,266

So, that’s the overall flow of things and a brief recap of what’s happened so far with the give back initiative. Now, let’s get in to the specific details for this month’s (May 2014-May 2015 catch up!) giveaway.

 

Details of May 2014-May 2015 10% Blog Income Giveaway

  • $779.13 total blog income to give away – $389.57 to 2 My Personal Finance Journey readers and $389.57 to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society of Colorado.
    • $389.57 in the form of 2 prizes available to 2 readers as follows –
      • 1) Grand Prize = $250 USD Cash Via PayPal.
      • 2) Runner-Up Prize = $139.57 USD Cash Via PayPal.

 

How to Enter the Giveaway – Deadline to Enter is 11:59 PM, June 15th, 2015

Like previous months, I’ve decided to use the RaffleCopter giveaway management tool to handle sign-up facilitation for this giveaway, so simply go through the steps listed in the widget below to enter the running for the prize and accumulate entry points.

There is no limit to the amount of points you can earn. If you refer 10 subscribers – your name will have accumulated 50 entry points! Or, if you link to the giveaway more than once, you can accumulate those 5 entry points multiple times. In the event of a tie, I will be using a random number generator to select the grand prize and runner-up (2nd place) prize winners.

Important instructions: After you complete an entry method, make sure to click and fill out the “I Did This” or “Enter” button in the widget so that I have a record of your points.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Remember, the deadline for entries will end at 11:59 PM, June 15th, 2015 (~4 weeks from today – the start of the give back). Good luck to you all! Please contact me if you have any questions. After the deadline for entries passes, the grand prize and runner-up prize winners (one with the most points and second most points accumulated, respectively) will be contacted via email to receive their prizes.

Well-Known Franchises That Are Cheap to Start

cold-stone-creamery-my-personal-finance-journeyThe following is a post by MPFJ staff writer, Derek Sall. Derek is the owner of the blog, LifeAndMyFinances.com, where he teaches people how to get out of debt, save money, and become wealthy.

Have you ever thought about going into business for yourself, but didn’t necessarily want to start from scratch? A franchise may just be what you need in your life. In its basic form, a franchise is a business that has already been formed and has a proven system that anyone can replicate.

One of the first successful franchises in the United States dates back to the 1960s when Ray Kroc (then a multi-mixer salesman) bought the rights to the restaurant, “McDonald’s” and sold the franchise over and over again to willing entrepreneurs. All Ray asked for was a portion of their sales volume. Many succeeded and the popularity of the franchise was born.

If you want to sign up as a McDonald’s franchisee today, you’re a little late to the party. Not only do you need millions of dollars to start one, you need to already be an owner of an existing franchise. So, since this obviously isn’t going to happen, what are your other options? There must be some well-known franchises that are cheap to start. Indeed there are. Take a look at the five successful franchises below that still have a reasonable price tag.

1) Chick-Fil-A

Chick-Fil-A is a fantastic franchise – so much so that there are over 20,000 applicants a year to become the next franchisee. Since the company cares more about the success of their business and their franchisees, they obviously do not allow every applicant to become an owner. Instead, they select between 75-80 new operators per year. Of those selected, 95% of them are a success and stick with the business for the long term.

The initial cost to the new owner-operator is $10,000 plus 15% of sales for the rent of the building, and then another 50% of the pre-tax profits. It sounds like a lot, and it is, but the start-up costs are next to nothing so almost anyone can become an owner of their very own franchise!

2) Subway

Subway has been a hot franchise ever since Jared shed hundreds of pounds on his “Subway diet”. In certain areas, there are almost too many Subway franchises and the market is becoming saturated, but if you can find a location that doesn’t have a Subway, then it could certainly become a great opportunity for you!

The franchise fee of a Subway is $15,000 and you have to foot the cost of the building (often $250k or more). They require you to pay royalties of 8% of gross sales and an advertising fee of 4.5%. The prices seem a little bit steep initially, but if you decide to call it quits, you will likely have equity in the building when you sell.

3) Cold Stone Creamery

Cold Stone Creamery opened their first store in 1988. The slow-churned ice cream became a hit quite quickly and the franchise was born.

If you want to start a Cold Stone Creamery today, you’ll need to have a net worth of $250,000. If you’re clear here, then you’ll have to come up with just $27,000 for the franchise fee, which is pretty meager compared to the costs of a full-fledged start-up. Of course, you’ll need a down-payment on the building (as is the case with most franchises), and you’ll have to pay 6% of your sales for royalties and 3% for national advertising.

4) Quiznos

The main rival to Subway, Quiznos offers subs that are considered less of a “fast-food” taste and more of a sandwich that would make your mouth water. Overall, the franchise is doing pretty well and offers its franchisees a pretty good deal to get started.

The initial cost of a Quiznos is $25,000 for the franchise fee and then they charge you 7% of sales for the royalty costs. And, as is typical, the cost of the building is yours too. But, even with that, the rates are quite cheap for an almost guaranteed business start-up!

5) Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen has been around for 75 years and is still a favorite today. The name is obviously recognizable, so if you want to start a franchise that is instantly known, then this is a strong possibility for you.

To start a Dairy Queen franchise, you’ll need to have $35,000 for the initial franchise fee and a down payment for the building. Once you open the doors and start earning all that cash, you’ll have to dish out 4% of gross sales for royalties and 6% for marketing expenses.

Summary

Each one of these options is feasible, but the absolute cheapest option is obviously the Chick-Fil-A franchise. Plus, notice where the royalty fees are pulled from: profits, not sales. That is a huge difference. With all other franchises, you could be losing money, but you would still owe money to the franchise because they take a percentage of your overall sales.

Chick-Fil-A on the other hand, wants to be sure that you earn money first and foremost, and then will accept half of your profits. If you want to put up very little money initially and have a very high success opportunity, then Chick-Fil-A would be the opportunity for you.

How about you all? Are you considering a franchise opportunity? What steps have you taken so far to move forward?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

***Photo courtesy: https://www.flickr.com/photos/informant/32974814/

Protecting Yourself Against Identity Theft and Financial Fraud

Identify theft and other financial fraud is a relatively common crime, but if you take certain preventative measures, you can help minimize your risk and be comforted in the fact that your ID and your money are a little safer than they might be otherwise.

Here are just a couple of things you can do:

 

Monitor Your Credit Report

Using free services like annualcreditreport.com, check your credit report just once per year to make sure there isn’t anything hurting your score than you were not responsible for. Look for suspicious activity or new accounts that were opened without your knowledge.  Monitoring your credit report once a year will allow you to not only maintain your credit if it’s good already, but also catch possible identity theft early if it happens.

 

Initiate Fraud Alerts From Each of the 3 Credit Bureaus

Another great way to protect yourself against financial identity fraud is to set up fraud alerts from the 3 major credit bureaus: Transunion, Experian, and Equifax. These sites not only help you monitor your credit report on a yearly basis, but you can also set up free fraud alerts so that the company may catch a potential source of fraud sooner than you may have during your yearly check.  This way, you don’t have to worry about a fraud occurring in February and you not knowing about it until you check your report again the following January.

 

Use a Credit Card For All Your Online Purchases

Sure, often times when someone steals your financial identity, it’s your credit card information.  Still, using a credit card for all your online purchases is much smarter than say sending money via a bank transfer because with a credit card you can more easily refute the charges.

Additionally, some credit cards have special programs in place to help prevent financial identity theft, like the Freeze ItSM feature from Discover.  Basically, if you misplace your card, all you have to do is “flip an on/off switch” and it will stop on all new purchases on your account.  Once the card is found, you can just “flip the switch” again and get back to normal.

Unfortunately, identity theft and financial fraud continue to be an issue in today’s society.  Thankfully, now there are a lot of programs out there to help you stay ahead of the game and to help ensure your financial safety.  While none of these programs will stop the thieves completely, they are all designed in such a way to stop them quickly and to ensure your financial identity is not permanently compromised and so you can rest easy knowing your money is in good hands.

***Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/intelfreepress/7853146846/in/

Disclosure: I am a paid brand Blogger for Discover Financial Services. My views are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Discover Products Inc. and its affiliates.

Which Do You Prefer: Experiences or Things?

family-experiences-my-personal-finance-journeyThe following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Melissa Batai.  Melissa is a freelance writer who covers topics ranging from personal finance to business to organics to food.  She blogs at Mom’s Plans where she shares her family’s journey to healthier living and paying down debt.

Growing up, my family didn’t have much money. Many of my clothes came from my three older cousins as hand-me-downs. One time, I hit the mother lode—a pair of Gloria Vanderbilt jeans was in the bag of clothes.

Woo hoo!

I finally had a pair of designer jeans. I wore them almost every day and felt like a million bucks. Once, my best friend asked to wear them, and I let her.

When they came back to me, they were covered with big white splotches. My friend had “accidentally” washed them when there was bleach in the washer. My jeans were ruined, and I was devastated.

Back to my unbranded jeans and my hand-me-down fashion.

In that instant, I learned how quickly the joy from material items can fade.

I’ve always been too cheap to buy designer anything. Why waste the money when the clothes will only last a little while? After my Gloria Vanderbilt jeans debacle, I never worried much about designer clothes.

In fact, I have decidedly not kept up with the Jones’ for much of my life. I drove a Toyota Tercel until it had 150,000 miles on it. Our current Toyota Sienna has 152,500 miles on it, and I have no plan to replace it any time soon.

I now regularly buy my clothes second hand, and in the world of big screen TVs, we make do with our 24 inch screen. Oh, we only have one television in our house.

My kids don’t have or play video games, and they have a very limited number of toys.

My husband and I have cheap flip cell phones with pay as you go minutes. No smart phones here.

We live a simple life, free of much materialism.

Sure, we’re on a tight budget, but mostly, my husband and I agree that we’d like to spend money on experiences rather than things.

I often feel alone in this thought process because many of the families around me have nice things—designer clothes, iPhones, new cars, etc. Yet, one researcher argues that my family and I are on to something:

“There’s a very logical assumption that most people make when spending their money: that because a physical object will lasts longer, it will make us happier for a longer time than a one-off experience like a concert or vacation. According to recent research, it turns out that assumption is completely wrong.

“‘One of the enemies of happiness is adaption,’ says Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University who has been studying the question of money and happiness for over two decades. ‘We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them’” (FastCoExist.com).

This phenomenon explains why some people are always chasing the latest technology. You know the type. (Maybe you are one of them.) Even though your electronic gizmo, whether it be a phone, computer, video game, etc., is working just fine, you’ll put down your hard earned money to buy the next version. It’s a never ending quest to have the latest and greatest. I once worked with a man who had to get a part-time job on the side just to feed his technology habit.

However, Gilovich suggests, “Rather than buying the latest iPhone or a new BMW, you’ll get more happiness spending money on experiences like going to art exhibits, doing outdoor activities, learning a new skill, or traveling” (FastCoExist.com).

Even better, you won’t have a lot of clutter in your home because you’re not buying stuff.

Travel Experiences

In the year in between my undergraduate and graduate education, I had the opportunity to go to Switzerland to become a nanny for six weeks. I had never been outside the United States before. While being a nanny was pretty much a disaster (that could be an entirely different post!), I LOVED everything about traveling.

I can still remember my flight to Switzerland. I sat next to a man from Croatia who was a ship captain, and we talked almost the entire flight.

I had the chance to walk through downtown Zurich multiple times with the children, and I also took a trip by myself to the border of Italy. The journey was amazing.

Two years later, my cousin and I had the chance to go to China with one of my friends. We got to climb the Great Wall of China and visit Harbin for the annual ice sculpture exhibit. We rode a train for 20+ hours to get there. It was an experience I’ll never forget. To this day, my cousin and I can talk about that trip and instantly feel like we’re right back there again.

Dr. Thomas Gilovich acknowledges, “Shared experiences connect us more to other people than shared consumption. You’re much more likely to feel connected to someone you took a vacation with in Bogota than someone who also happens to have bought a $4,000 TV” (FastCoExist.com).

Two years after my trip to China, my husband and I traveled to Japan to visit his family before we became engaged. I’ll never forget walking out of the train station in Osaka and being fascinated by the busy traffic and all the different hair and fashion styles. I saw beautiful mountains and golden temples. It was definitely a trip to remember.

Family Experiences

Now that I’m older and have a family, worldwide travel isn’t as easy or as practical as it used to be. Instead, we try to travel locally and spend time showing the kids places rather than buying them things.

Since we moved to Tucson last summer, we’ve taken the kids to many different sites such as local missions, Old Tucson, and Tombstone. These trips weren’t always cheap, but they created memories that bond us as a family.

Why Are Experiences So Much Better than Things?

Think about your things. How many do you truly value? I can think of sentimental things that I love like a few of my late grandma’s possessions that I have or the ring I bought in Ireland, but honestly, there are not many material things that I’m attached to.

By contrast, I think fondly on all of my vacations, even a trip to Ireland where we stayed in a dank, damp cottage and found, in our beds that were so old that they sunk in the middle, many spiders. It wasn’t a good time while I was there, but now, all of us who went look back on the trip fondly and with laughter.

The Atlantic supports this idea, arguing, “Looking back on purchase made, experiences make people happier than do possessions. It’s kind of counter to the logic that if you pay for an experience, like a vacation, it will be over and gone; but if you buy a tangible thing, a couch, at least you’ll have it for a long time. Actually most of us have a pretty intense capacity for tolerance, or hedonic adaptation, where we stop appreciating things to which we’re constantly exposed. iPhones, clothes, couches, et cetera, just become background. They deteriorate or become obsolete. It’s the fleetingness of experiential purchases that endears us to them. Either they’re not around long enough to become imperfect, or they are imperfect, but our memories and stories of them get sweet with time. Even a bad experience becomes a good story.”

How about you all? What do you prefer? Possessions or experiences? Did you prefer one previously and now you prefer the other?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

***Photo courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/brianauer/2112309566/

Nine Things To Make Next Year’s Taxes Easier

tax-return-my-personal-finance-journeyThe following post is by MPFJ staff writer Travis, who blogs at Enemy of Debt where he candidly shares his family’s financial struggles, failures and successes. As a father and husband, he provides a unique perspective on balancing debt, finances, and family.

This year’s tax deadline has passed, and unless you’ve got some extenuating circumstances your taxes are filed and either a refund has been deposited in your account, or you’ve written a check out to the IRS. Each year I do exactly the same thing after completing my tax return as required by the government.

First I breath a sigh of relief, then I start getting ready for next year’s tax return.

There’s no time to waste. Here’s nine things that should be done immediately to help make filing next year’s tax return as stress free as possible.

Change Your Withholdings

The first thing to be done is to analyze the results of this year’s return. If you underpaid or overpaid your taxes during the year, you may want to consider changing your tax withholdings with your employer to prevent the same outcome.   Some people like getting a sizable tax return because it forces them to save money. That may seem like an interest free loan to the government, but it may actually be a great idea for people that have a hard time forcing themselves to save. The interest rate of a savings account these days is a fraction of a percent, so you’re not losing out on much interest accumulation. If you want a different outcome next year, change your withholdings now.

Label A Manilla Envelope

I keep all my important tax documents in a manilla envelope labeled with the tax year they pertain to.   Right after filing my taxes for the previous year, I get a new envelope and write the next year in big numbers on the front. I then make a checklist of everything I need to prepare my tax return such as W2s, 1099s, charitable contribution statements, property tax statements and more.

Print a Physical Copy Of This Year’s Return

A physical copy of my tax return (federal and state) along with all the worksheets is printed and placed in the current year’s manilla envelope. I have an electronic version stored on my computer, and backed up to a USB drive as well. But I like to have a physical copy printed out and filed with all my other tax documentation. Electronic data loss happens, and your tax returns would be invaluable if you were ever audited.

Find Your Property Tax Statement

How a county handles property taxes may differ across the country, but in my area we have our property tax payment coupons for the year already at this point. I don’t actually need them since my mortgage holder takes care of payment, so I put the entire statement in the manilla envelope. Otherwise, it may end up hiding at the bottom of some drawer, or even accidentally thrown away. I can then check that item off on the front of the envelope.

Copy Your Vehicle Registration Receipt

In some states part or all of the yearly vehicle registration fee is tax deductible. My family has two vehicles, one of which we’ve already paid this year’s registration fee. I make a copy of the receipt, since the original should be kept in the vehicle, and put the copy in the envelope. Another item checked off the list!

Get Ready For Medical Receipts

I label a normal mailing envelope with the words, “Medical Receipts,” and put that into the larger manilla envelope. Receipts for each medical expense incurred throughout the year will be put into the envelope for possible use while doing our taxes next year.

Business Documentation

I label another envelope with the word, “Business” Since I’m a freelance writer, I have business expenses during the year that may be tax deductible. I also will put a copy of my monthly invoices into the envelope. Having a place to store them all together ensures I don’t have to hunt for them when tax season rolls around at the beginning of next year.

Additional Items

The Manilla envelope will serve as your central repository for tax documentation. If anything happens during the year that may affect my taxes, the documentation goes in this envelope. For example, if I sell, buy, or refinance a home, or liquidate some investments, the documentation goes immediately into this envelope, and it gets listed on the front.

File It

Take the envelopes from both this year and next year and file them away in your filing cabinet, your fire-proof safe,or wherever you store your important documents. Put them to place so you know where they’re at when you need to find them again.

You may not feel like worrying about next year’s taxes now, but it’s the perfect time to start when the items needed are fresh in your memory. These activities will take very little time, and will get you started on the road to a successful tax filing next year.

Happy Tax Season 2016, now you’re ready!

How about you all? Do you have any other tips or tricks that you use to help make your next years taxes easier?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

***Photo courtesy Robert Cochrane at FreeDigitalPhotos.net