Archive for Financial

Want To Earn Some Extra Gift Cards?

If so, read on!

If you haven’t yet signed up for Swagbucks, you really should consider it. I have been doing Swagbucks and I’m earning free gift cards for very little time. There are lots of ways to earn swagbucks, such as taking surveys, signing up for things, and even just searching the internet. Also, Swagbucks sometimes puts out codes during the day that will give you extra swagbucks to add to your collection. When you accrue enough swagbucks, you can redeem them for gift cards. A $5 Amazon gift card “costs” 450 swagbucks and 500 swagbucks could get you $5 gift cards to Target or Starbucks. There are lots of other options for gift cards as well. The nice thing about Swagbucks (besides the fact that it’s completely free) is that if you sign up and don’t have time to do it for awhile, it’s no big deal. There’s no obligation to do anything, so you do what you can when you can.

For a limited time, Swagbucks is offering my readers 70 Swagbucks for signing up with my special sign-up code. You can also earn 30 points by just completing your profile once you’ve signed up.

Interested? This takes just a few minutes.

1. Go here. Please note that this is my referral link. It will cost nothing for you to use it, but would definitely help me to earn more swagbucks, so if you’re interested in helping me (and my blog), please consider using it.

2. Click on “I have a sign up code” and enter ALIFEINTUNE. It is case-sensitive, so be sure it is in All Caps.

It’s very simple. Once you sign up, that code should award you 70 swagbucks. Plus, when you finish your profile, you will earn an extra 30. But don’t wait – my code is only good until Friday, April 11!

 

On Being Self-Employed

As a self-employed music therapist, piano teacher, and musician, I really think there is no due date I dislike more than tax day. Yes, I love finding out how much money we will get back and I love actually getting that money back. But I absolutely detest actually doing our taxes. I realize most people don’t enjoy doing their taxes, but I hate doing mine because it is so involved. There are definitely people who have a lot more to deal with when it comes to taxes, but I can assure you that self-employment is more than enough for me! So in honor of my least favorite “season” of the year, I wanted to shed some light on what it means to be self-employed.

On Being Self-Employed

Most people probably never really think about self-employment or if they know anyone who is self-employed, but you probably do. Many hair stylists, in-home daycare owners, housekeepers, massage therapists, musicians, etc. are self-employed. Here are a few facts you may not know about people who are self-employed.

1. If we don’t work, we don’t get paid. Yes, it’s nice to make your own schedule, but if you’re sick, you have to stay home with sick kids, you have an appointment you can’t change, you go on maternity leave, it’s a holiday, the weather is bad and you can’t get to your clients or they can’t get to you, or God-forbid, you actually take a day off for yourself, there is no such thing as paid time off. Some people choose to “pay” themselves, so they have PTO built into their “paycheck” but those people are also in charge of setting aside some of their earnings in order to give themselves the PTO, which means their rates have to reflect that. When you work for an employer, the employer typically gives the employee PTO days as a benefit. Another thing we have to consider is that someone who is self-employed cancels too often, we stand the chance of losing contracts.

On the flip side of this is that you also don’t get paid when people cancel, unless you have it written into your policy that clients still pay. Many daycares do this and you are still expected to pay when you are on vacation, your kid is sick, they are closed, it’s a holiday, etc. Yes, as a parent, it’s a pain to pay for things like this, but being self-employed, I completely understand why. It takes money to keep a business like this running. See below for a more detailed explanation.

I run into issues with this as a piano teacher all the time, and this is why I am strongly considering rewriting my policy. When I have parents cancel lessons at the last minute or want to change them because of something else their kids are doing after school or sometimes just because they don’t feel like coming (yes, this happens!), I lose money and I can’t always fill the spot if it’s at the last minute. I have always tried to be flexible with  my business but the longer I work in this field, the more I am inclined to change my policy so that I am not the one being walked all over every time a parent (at the last minute) decides something else is more important that day.

Another thing to keep in mind is all the unpaid hours that go into the “billable” time. For example, I only bill a company for the hours I am at their facility doing their group. That does not figure in drive time to and from the facility, nor does it take into consideration any planning time that I spent getting things together for the group. There are a million other little things that also have to be done when you own your business, like your bookkeeping, scheduling, marketing, keeping up your webpage, and returning phone calls/answering questions, just to name a few. You are paid for none of these things, yet they have to happen in order to have a successful business.

2. We pay more taxes than someone who is employed. When you are employed, you pay a certain percentage of your earnings to Medicare and Social Security and your employer pays a percentage. When you are self-employed, you pay both.

3. We get to deduct work expenses like mileage, continuing education, etc. That being said, we are also solely responsible for paying for these things out of our own pockets, so while we aren’t paying taxes on this amount, it still costs us money and takes away from our earnings.

4. There is really no such thing as a raise. Unless you raise your rates. I haven’t had a raise since I started working as a music therapist 8 years ago. The only times I have made more money is when I have worked more hours. Of course, I can always raise my rates, but with the rising cost of just about everything, especially healthcare, raising rates could potentially cause me to lose clients, which would then mean a reduction in pay and a reduction in my hours. I know that what I do is worth way more than what I am charging, but it’s very difficult to work up the nerve to raise rates knowing that facilities and people are struggling financially right now. Therefore, I am stuck making the same pay as when I first started out, even though I now have 8 years of experience and a Masters degree. Sound fair to you? Me either….

5. You are never really “off.” I feel like since I work out of my home, I have had to really set boundaries as to when I will work. Otherwise, I will work all the time and never really take a break. It’s much harder to do this than you think!

6. People who are self-employed must charge enough to cover all their expenses. There are few things that make me cringe faster than when someone complains about how much her haircut/massage/babysitter/voice teacher costs. Yes, there are still people whose rates are higher than they maybe should be, but for the most part, there is a reason for this. When I tell people what my rate is, I’m sure it sounds high to some, even though it’s actually too little. But let’s look at this logically.

Let’s say your daycare charges $125 a week for one child. This averages out to $25 a day for a 5-day week. Let’s say the daycare has 10 kids, so that would mean they make $250 a day. Let’s say there are two people working at that daycare and they split the money, so that means each person makes $125 a day. Many daycares here open at 6:30 or 7 and stay open until 5:30 or so. So if a daycare is open from 6:30 in the morning until 5:30 in the evening, and the workers each work 9 hours a day (only one person is there at 6:30 and only one person is there until 5:30). That ends up being about $13.89 an hour. And that’s before any expenses. If your daycare provides diapers, wipes, formula, snacks, lunch, breakfast, or any combination of these things, that all has to be subtracted from their earnings. If they do art projects, there are supplies associated with that. This is also before taxes are paid, and if you read all of the above points, you know that self-employed people pay even more taxes than employed people. Also, if the daycare is paying a rent or mortgage payment on the location of the daycare, that costs money, too. I’m sure there are also fees associated with state licensure, etc. If daycares did not ask their clients to pay when they are on vacation, they would make even less an hour because their vacations wouldn’t be “paid,” either. The list goes on and on.

If it costs $80 to get my hair colored and cut, that seems expensive but not when you break down the cost of the booth rental for the hair stylist, the materials and supplies needed to do it, the taxes she pays on her earnings, and the 2+ hours it takes to do my hair. At the end of the year, it all comes down to a really normal wage.

I had a facility kind of “freak out” once about how much I was going to charge them for live music and it was really irritating. I really wish more people understood how small businesses work and would take that into consideration before complaining about how much it costs. I really think the cost of living is just expensive. It is expensive to take kids to daycare. Piano lessons can be expensive. It is expensive to have your hair colored. Hiring a musician isn’t cheap, because it can’t be for the musician to even break even.

There are certainly good things about being self-employed, one of them being the flexibility you have with your hours, but with every pro there is a con. Choosing to be self-employed only works for me because my husband is employed and therefore, has all the benefits we need at his place of employment (healthcare, etc.). If he did not have the job he has or if I were single, I would not be able to work the way I am working right now.

One thing you can be sure of is that most people who are self-employed aren’t doing it for the money, because there isn’t as much of that as there seems to be. So chances are, they are doing it because they love it, as it takes a lot of effort to make things work when you are self-employed, and it would be so not worth it if you didn’t enjoy what you were doing. You can rest assured that if you do hire someone who is self-employed to do a job for you, they are probably passionate about it and will (hopefully!) put their best foot forward!

 

Get Money Back When You Shop Online

As you purchase your holiday gifts this season, don’t forget to shop through Ebates if you’re buying online! I have made $15 already and expect to get back almost another $15 from other online purchases I made on Cyber Monday. It’s free money, so how can you go wrong with that?

Click on the link below and sign up. It’s free and easy!

 

Ebates Coupons and Cash Back

 

 

 

This post contains an affiliate link. Click here to learn more.

Are you doing Bing Rewards?

I know that a lot of people do Swagbucks and I am still in the process of learning more about it. (By the way, if anyone is really good at earning lots of gift cards using Swagbucks and would like to share some tips with me, I would love to hear them!) However, I just heard about Bing Rewards and it is so easy to do. You basically earn points for just searching on the internet, and who doesn’t do that?

For every 2 searches you earn 1 point, at a maximum of 15 points per day. You can search for anything and everything and it counts. Each day, Bing also has one or two other things you can click on to earn an extra point or two. I have typically been earning about 16 points a day. You can cash in these points for gift cards once you accumulate so many of them. For example, a $5 Starbuck gift card or Amazon gift card is 525 points. If I am earning about 16 points a day, that means I can earn a gift card about once a month. That’s not too bad, especially if I was going to be searching the internet anyway! These gift cards are great to treat yourself or to use as a stocking stuffer for Christmas.

You should definitely try it out! It is free and you can get free stuff. What’s not to like about that?

Have you had any good experiences using Bing Rewards?

Thrifty Thursday: Using a Rain Barrel

We went to the zoo on Earth Day this past April and placed a bid on a rain barrel in an auction there. Various groups in the area had decorated rain barrels and the money made on each went to the group that painted it. We ended up winning one of the rain barrels for only $50 and we were given all the materials needed to hook it up. After much pushing and shoving to get it in our vehicle with 2 kids and a stroller, we set it up at home. It didn’t take long for it to fill up and we were able to start using it almost immediately. This past summer, we watered a lot of our plants and flowers using the water from the rain barrel. We haven’t done a formal cost analysis or anything, but I know it has definitely saved us some money! It is also great to know that we are conserving water and not wasting it!

Rain Barrel

Do you use a rain barrel? How much money do you think you save by using one?

Thrifty Thursday: Free Samples

When I first started couponing and following blogs that were centered around saving money, I came across numerous opportunities to sign up for free samples. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but sometimes you can get some really good products for absolutely free. I have gotten lots of small shampoo and lotion samples of things I don’t typically use, but I save them for when I go out of town and need smaller portions. It saves a ton of room to pack a few samples than it does to pack an entire bottle of something. I also use these kinds of samples when I run out of something and haven’t gotten a new bottle to replace it with yet. Because of the samples I’ve gotten, I always have something to use until I can get to the store. Some free samples also come in the form of a coupon for a free item. I have gotten free bottles of juice and free bottles of coffee creamer this way. Sometimes, I have also gotten bigger items in the mail like razors, small bags of chips, granola bars or a free water bottle, which my husband snatched up as soon as I got it. He likes to make fun of my couponing but that didn’t stop him from stealing that free sample from me! Target also regularly gives away free samples, and I was able to sign up for an entire package of free cleaning samples once through my Sam’s Club membership.

So how do you find out about these free samples? Again, I follow blogs. Some couponing blogs will also report when there are free samples available, in addition to couponing tips and weekly ad matchups. In addition, there are blogs that are completely dedicated to alerting readers to free samples, such as Free Stuff. Following these blogs through Facebook also helps you to find out about these opportunities even faster. Check out my Suggested Links for blogs that will let you know when a good one comes up! When you do get a chance to sign up, it is usually as easy as entering in your name and address. Sometimes a small survey is involved but they are usually very short.

You aren’t going to stock your pantry or end up with a year’s supply of something by signing up for free samples, but I typically like to save sample-sized items for vacations or instances where I need something smaller. As long as it is something you can use, it is a good deal!

Saving Money in Europe: Calling Home

Since I’ve been writing the First Impressions posts (so far, I have posts about London, Paris, Barcelona, RomeDublinPragueMunich, and Venice), I’ve been going through pictures, which has got me thinking about visiting Europe again. So I thought I would share with you some of the money-saving tips that have helped us to travel cheaply when we travel in Europe.

Calling Home

Like a lot of things in Europe, calling home is super expensive, even if you do have a cell phone plan that works. I know people who have travelled in Europe and used their working cell phones to call home, and even though they felt they used it “sparingly,” their cell phone bill that month was several hundreds of dollars more than it normally was. The first two times we travelled to Europe, neither of our cell phones worked, so we just turned them off and rebooted them once we arrived back in the states. The last time we went, we bought a service that was supposed to make my husband’s Iphone work (I still had a regular caveman-like phone and still do at the time of this writing). Unfortunately it didn’t work, so we ended up cancelling it and getting a refund after a long phone call with the company. So we have done 3 European trips without cell phones. Some of you are probably thinking “How?!”

First, let me just say how wonderful it is to actually turn off our cell phones for 16 days at a time. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be. We didn’t have people calling us who didn’t know we were on vacation or people asking questions about work. We didn’t have people who knew we were on vacation calling to see how it was going when we were trying to run to catch the train or figure out how to order dinner in French or German. We could simply do what we wanted with our day without interruption, and it is so nice.

That being said, I know it is always scary for our families because they know they can’t reach us whenever they want. Rest assured that we always leave an itinerary with our lodging’s phone number and instructions on how to call to that particular country. If there was a true emergency, we would be notified. We also contacted family in the evenings when we got back from being out all day, and we did this in a number of ways.

If you have read any of my other posts about saving money in Europe, you would know that we typically book hotels and bed and breakfasts with internet, and this is key if you’re going to go without a cell phone. We always travel with our Ipad or some kind of laptop. At night, we were able to check our Facebook accounts and email (even though it’s nice not to be interrupted during the day, we still enjoyed seeing what was going on at home!) and post pictures if we had a chance. This let friends and family know that we were all still up and running. There was also email to contact family if we happened to be in our room at a time that wouldn’t have been convenient to call family, due to the time difference. But the best option, I’m convinced, is Skype.

We first started using Skype almost 7 years ago on our honeymoon, and it is a great service. From some countries, you can call using Skype (through internet) for free. From Europe to the US, it is only $0.02 a minute, which is super cheap. I can’t stress the convenience of this service enough. It is free to sign up and then you can go from there. I know there are even more features to the service than I even know about, but even if all you want to do is call home,  it’s easy enough to use. Just be sure to let your friends and family know that the number will show up as a really long random number and not the one you normally call with. I’m not sure how much we actually spent on phone calls on our trips to Europe, but I doubt it was ever more than $10, and probably not even close to that.

Have you ever used anything else to call home when you’ve travelled overseas?

Check out other ways to save on hotelsfoodsightseeing, and transportation in Europe.

Thrifty Thursday: Joining a CSA

We are almost 21 weeks into our CSA that we joined in May of this year. For those who don’t know, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Basically, our family and another family have split the cost for a partial share of fruits and vegetables grown at a farm in our area. Every Saturday, one of us picks up our weekly share and we split what we get. When I do the math, it comes up to be around $8 a week when we split a partial share. Of course, some weeks we get more than other weeks, but all in all, I really do believe that we have gotten a fair price. Though our CSA is not technically certified organic (due to paperwork and red tape), they do follow organic guidelines when growing their crops, so that makes the deal even better. So basically we are getting fresh and locally grown organic fruits and veggies each week.

Anya Picking Sungolds at CSA

Anya picking tomatillos at the farm.

How is this saving us money?

1. We don’t have to buy much produce at the grocery store. There are a few things we get to supplement what we don’t get from the farm, but we don’t have to buy nearly as much. Plus we are eating healthy by adding in all the veggies we wouldn’t normally think to buy.

2. We are eating less meals with meat. I don’t have anything against meat, but when we get fresh veggies each week, we feel like we need to be sure to use them before they go bad. Therefore, a lot of our veggies show up as the main entrée in many of our meals. Because of this, we have bought much less meat over the course of the summer.

3. We also get fresh herbs and flowers. We all know how expensive it is to get fresh herbs and flowers from the grocery. At our CSA, we are allowed to cut as much of each of these as we need for the week. I have made a ton of pesto and used lots of fresh oregano and basil in many recipes. And I think getting the freshly cut flowers speak for itself.

Seton Harvest Herbs

Herbs at Seton Harvest

4. We have been saving some of the vegetables for later. We also spent a little time canning and freezing both fresh and prepared vegetables, including things like pizza sauce, diced tomatoes, green beans, salsa verde, etc.

5. We even use the leftover ends of veggies. I have been saving all the scraps and ends of veggies to make vegetable stock when I get a full gallon-size bag of them. I keep it in the freezer to keep it from going bad until I have enough for a full batch. This has saved me lots of money on buying stock at the store. Also, whatever doesn’t go in my vegetable stock goes in my husband’s compost bin, which we use in our own garden.

6. Volunteer hours get you a discount on next year’s share. I don’t know that all CSA’s do this, but ours happens to offer a $50 discount if your family logs at least 4 hours of volunteer hours working at the farm. This makes next year’s share even cheaper.

I’m sure there are other ways we are saving by joining the CSA, but these are the main ones that I can think of off the top of my head. We considered this year a trial run, but we will definitely be back next year to do it again. We have learned so much about vegetables and have tried several we have never had before.

Have you ever tried a CSA before?

Thrifty Thursday: Free Books!

I am a big reader and reading is one of my favorite past times. I also love bookstores, libraries, and coffee shops that have books. I love the feel of a paperback and there is just something about reading from a book. This is why I resisted getting an e-reader for so long.

That being said, at one point last year, I mentioned that a Kindle would be nice for vacations so I wouldn’t have to pack a ton of books that weighed down my bag. I think I made one or two comments about it just in passing, but my husband must have been listening and bought me a Kindle Paperwhite for Christmas. Sometimes I do miss the feel of holding a book, but I absolutely love the convenience of my Kindle.

I can check out books at my local library on my Kindle from the comfort of my home and it doesn’t cost anything. I am also an Amazon Prime member and could choose to check out a book from a list each month. Another cool thing about the Kindle is that you can get free or discounted books on Amazon every day. At the writing of this post, I have 489 books on my Kindle. Two of these books are library books and one of them I paid $0.99 for. The rest were completely free.

Amazon offers a certain number of e-books for free each day. All you have to do is search for them on Amazon. They also offer daily deals where you can purchase e-books at a discounted price. Now, not all these books are necessarily the best books you will ever read (almost anyone can write an e-book), but I have found some good cookbooks and books about home organization, green cleaning recipes, time management, and daily devotionals. One day I even got a free version of The Da Vinci Code. The worst thing that happens is that I download a book for free, it’s not very good, so I delete it off my Kindle. No big deal. I would suggest checking out Ereadergirl to get a watered down version of the best free and discounted options each day.

I still do read paperbacks from time to time, but I think, for me, the Kindle Paperwhite was a pretty good gift/investment, especially when I have literally only spent $0.99 for books since Christmas.

Do you have an e-reader? What are your thoughts?

Thrifty Thursdays: Saving Money at Staples

Before I started following coupon blogs, I never realized how affordable a store like Staples could be. I usually bought all my office supplies at Walmart or Target, but once I learned how to really shop at Staples, I found that it was worth my time. Here’s why:

1. Rewards Program

Staples has a good rewards program. It is free to sign up and gets you things like free shipping. Also, you get 5% back in rewards on everything you purchase and earn $2 in rewards for every used ink cartridge you turn in. Rewards are distributed each month.

2. Binder Recycling

You can bring in an old binder you can no longer use to receive $2 off the purchase of a new binder. Those things are expensive, so any little bit helps!

3. Free after Rebates

I have gotten several deals that made the items I purchased free after a rebate. I have not spent a single penny on computer or printer paper since I started shopping at Staples. It seems like they always have free paper deals there. When the deal is going on, all I have to do is buy the paper, then turn in the rebate application. A few weeks later, I get a check in the mail for the amount. The best part is that the rebates can be submitted online, which is so much better than mailing it in! Sometimes when I am feeling really lazy, I even order the paper from my computer.

4. Coupons

Staples actually has really decent coupons. In addition, there are items there that I never thought to look for. For example, we actually buy a lot of our K cups there. They are on sale a lot and when I pair them with a coupon from the ad, I get a pretty good deal. Other items I’ve gotten deals on also include cleaning supplies, like Lysol wipes.

I’m sure I’m missing something. How else have you saved money at Staples?

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