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A Look at the Nest Thermostat


A former Apple executive has given the lowly programmable thermostat in your home a high-tech makeover.

The Nest Learning Thermostat is the brainchild of Tony Fadell, who had a role in the design of the iPod and iPhone.

What can the Nest thermostat do for you?

The Nest is a device that learns your living patterns and figures out when to bump the temperature up or down a few degrees to save you money while you're out -- without you having to tell it to do anything.

Like all Apple products, the Nest looks like a piece of art and makes technology very easy to use. Its most prominent feature is a dial that's similar to the one on an iPod. It can also be controlled remotely via smartphone, tablet, or laptop.

Programmable thermostats can reduce heating and cooling costs in your home by 25% or 30%. It's priced at around $250 for the latest version. (The first generation Nest is available for $179-$199.) Visit Nest.com for more details on how it works.

The Nest can be self-installed if you have technical ability or you can hire a local installer who will also sell you the unit. Retailers carrying the Nest include Amazon, Best Buy, and Lowe's, among others.

I am obsessed with reducing energy consumption and have done whole house solar at my residence. I'm also a huge CFL freak. While I have tried traditional programmable thermostats before, I have not necessarily been happy with the results.

I've tried the Nest at my home and am very happy with its performance. I've found it reduces your energy bill by the 30% that's advertised.

Remember, the payback on the Nest is measured in months, not years. Best of all, when I had my Nest put in, my power company had a $100 rebate for me. Check DSIREUSA.org for similar rebates that may be available in your area.

3 Emotional Benefits of Giving

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When we think about money, we don’t necessarily think about our emotions. But if we took one look at our money “language” we’d realize emotions have everything to do with our money.

We “love” the things we buy. We “need” the latest gadget. We don’t “feel” like purchasing some things. On and on we use emotional language to describe what we do with our money. But have you ever thought about how giving your money away could make you “feel?”

I’d like to challenge you as we rapidly approach the end of the year, to consider the following emotional benefits of giving.

Here are 3 emotional benefits of giving you can experience this holiday season

1. Giving allows you the benefit of tapping into your passion. By definition, passion is one of the strongest emotional feelings humans experience. Your passion can move you like no other force can and if you dare to connect your money with your passion you will experience a winning combination. Are you passionate about animals? Give to shelters. Are you passionate about women’s issues? Give to organizations that support women’s empowerment. Are you eager to see change in education? Give to organizations that change lives through educational programming. Bottom line, give specifically and exclusively to causes, people, initiatives or organizations that you are passionate about.

ARTICLE: Clark's Charity Donation Guide

2. Giving promotes a feeling of peace. When you’ve taken the time to give to causes that you are passionate about, an unexpected emotion can emerge—peace. Peace isn’t regularly considered an “emotion,” but who doesn’t enjoy moments of great contentment, stillness, and utter satisfaction? Giving has the potential to take you into that place! When you give your money and kid’s lives are changed, or symphony orchestras are given the resources to perform their music, or villages are given clean water, or affordable housing is built for those in need, or moms are given pre-natal care, or community parks are built, etc., you open yourself up to feel an incredible satisfaction and peace. Stingy people aren’t peaceful, but generous people are full of peace.

ARTICLE: How To Limit the Risk of Identity Theft When You Donate to a Second-Hand Store

3. Giving enables you to connect with your purpose. Purpose isn’t necessarily thought of as an “emotional” word either, but when you give, you just might find that your giving opens you up to discover true happiness that comes from knowing your life’s purpose. Robert F. Kennedy said, The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better. When we give our money away to people, causes, initiatives, or organizations that we are passionate about, we help contribute to making this world a better place. And many people have discovered that their giving led them directly to their life’s purpose. Pulling out a checkbook or determining to donate online to a cause also pulls your heart in that direction. If you are careful to process your emotions when you give, you may find a present for yourself—your purpose!

I hope that as you think about your end of the year spending, you will also think about the emotions of passion, peace, and purpose that you can experience as you enjoy your end of the year giving!



About the author: Jennifer Keitt is author of the book Shake Up Your Life: 30 Steps to Powerful Brilliant Living. She has earned honors for her contributions to women globally as host and executive producer of The Jennifer Keitt Show and the Today’s Black Woman Radio Show. In addition, Jennifer is a regular television contributor on HLN's Dr. Drew On Call and is founder of the non-profit Keitt Institute. Visit JenniferKeitt.com for more information.

5 Steps To Building a Freelance Career or Business

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Could I be honest with you for a moment? I’m not great at following the rules or obeying authority. I prefer doing things my way. I like being the boss. (Yes, I’m an only child. How did you guess?)

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think these are necessarily stellar qualities. For better or worse, I prefer working on my own and calling the shots -- which meant I wasn’t happy as an employee in someone else’s business.

It was always a dream of mine to be able to work for myself. I longed to be a professional writer, a freelancer who wasn’t tied down to a single company or gig or line of work, but struggled to figure out how to get paid for what I loved to do.

Eventually, my desire to work for myself and my dislike of the full-time office job I was stuck in came to a head. Last year, I decided I had to do something to make a career change. I was finally going to take action and create my own career.

It was a lot of hard work (read: 80- and 90-hour work weeks) and a lot of trial and error (read: plenty of mistakes to learn from), but I did succeed at building not only a career, but my own business that I now run full-time and absolutely love. As an added bonus, working for myself has allowed me to more than double the income I was making as an employee in someone else’s business.

I took action to succeed at my goal of becoming a solopreneur -- and if you have dreams of building a freelance career or one-person business, you can, too. Get started with these 5 steps:

Step 1: Build Your Own Platform

Since you’re looking to create your own career or build your own business, you should start by building your own platform from which to work. Another way of putting this is to establish your own personal brand.

The best way to do this? Launch a simple website with a blog (or, to get started, just blog!). This is your online platform for spreading the good word to potential clients, connections, and collaborators -- and you’ll need all three to succeed.

Your blog (and/or website) serves as your online home base. It’s where people can find you, learn more about you, and purchase your services or products.

More importantly, it’s how you can build a following around your personal brand and your work. A blog serves as the foundation of your online platform from which you can build your status as an expert in your field. And when it comes to online, authority is everything.

So blog about your industry and your work. Use it to show people that you know what you’re talking about and that you’re excellent at what you do.

And don’t be afraid to dive down into a specific niche. Far from being limiting, this makes it easier for you to become known as the go-to source within your chosen niche.

Step 2: Get Social

Your blog won’t help you if you’re using it to shout into a void. You need to develop an active and engaged following, one that actually reads and cares about what you have to say.

Even if your writing is incredible and you’re sharing really fantastic content, it won’t matter if no one knows where it is, who you are, or how to find you.

Solve this problem with step 2 and get social! Social media networks are your best friend if you’re trying to establish your own career or business.

They provide you with instant (and free) access to the world, and allow you to introduce yourself to both influencers who can help you spread the word about your work and people that may be interested in hiring you.

Think about social media as a conversation, not as another platform for talking about yourself -- that’s what your website and blog are for! Just because Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, G+, and Pinterest are all online and you view interactions through a screen doesn’t mean you can get away with ignoring others.

They’re called social networks for a reason. Join the conversation. Ask questions, or provide answers to someone else’s questions. Share content that’s valuable to your followers, and help promote others.

Step 3: Work for Free

This seems completely counterintuitive, but doing some work for free is a great way to gain leverage in creating your own career. The key is to identify what work is worth volunteering your time and effort for, and what doesn’t deserve such generosity on your part.

Here are some great ways to spend your time doing some work for free when you’re trying to build your own freelancing career or business:

  •  Write guest posts for high-authority sites
  •  Respond to reporter queries to get quoted on big media outlets
  •  Volunteer to help industry influencers with a project or problem they’re having
  •  Ask if you can help out another freelancer who you admire (sort of like an informal internship; you’ll gain valuable connections and experience)
  •  Be willing to participate in interviews and events
  •  Seek out unpaid speaking gigs
  •  Create a valuable product, like an informational ebook, and give it away to your audience for free


All of the above actions may not result in immediate financial compensation, but all the work you do for free should provide some sort of return for you. For example:

  •  Guest posting, giving interviews, and participating in industry events builds authority and helps introduce you to audiences who don’t know about you yet
  •  Dedicating time to answering reporter queries and getting quoted allows you to build social proof and your status as an expert (it means something when you can say you’ve been quoted on Forbes!)
  •  Volunteering and helping others in your industry who are already successful and who you admire can pay off in the form of a high-authority recommendation or testimonial for your work or a word-of-mouth referral
  •  Giving away something valuable helps make it easy for others to promote you to their audiences, and builds your authority


Keep in mind that you shouldn’t do all work for free, and you shouldn’t do it indefinitely. These are all opportunities that you can generate, as well. Be wary when approached by others who try to convince you to provide a product or service in exchange for “exposure.”

Step 4: Knock Their Socks Off

Once you do get your foot in the door with someone, whether it’s paid work or on a volunteer basis, knock that person’s socks off with what you deliver. You want to blow them away with what you do or provide for them.

In other words, underpromise and overdeliver.

Why? Because people who have their expectations exceeded get excited about their experience.

They’ll likely talk to other people about it, and tell others about the awesome work you did. They’ll remember you six months down the road when a colleague of theirs asks, “Hey, do you know who I can go to for X?”

Remember the idea of getting into a niche from step 1? Here’s where and why it matters. I’ll give you my personal example: I provide content marketing management services to financial planners who serve younger clients.

That’s really specific -- and it’s a good thing, because professional financial services is a rather tight-knit industry. When one of my clients appreciates what I do and is excited about the result, my name is the one that comes up when another planner approaches them and says, “Gosh, how do you keep your social media presence so strong?”

Word-of-mouth marketing is a powerful thing. Take advantage by being known from something specific and knocking the socks off anyone you work for so they just can’t help but tell other people about how awesome you are.

Step 5: Keep Learning

Steps 1 through 4 can lead you to success. It won’t happen overnight, and it will take a lot of dedication, effort, and work. But if you’re tenacious and stick with it, you can succeed in building a freelance career or business.

Step 5 is to make sure your efforts are sustainable. The online world makes it easier than ever to create your own career or launch a one-person business, but it’s a world that’s constantly changing. The Internet didn’t even exist a few decades ago; there’s no telling what work in the digital economy will look like in ten, twenty, or thirty more years.

The only thing that seems certain is that it won’t look like it does today. That’s why it’s important to keep learning with free online courses, keep adding to your abilities, keep diversifying your skillset.

Building your own freelancing career will provide you with a wealth of valuable experiences, but don’t stop challenging yourself once you meet your goal. Find ways to scale up. Offer new services or try a new venture. Do something different and keep learning.

How Much "It's Only $5" Really Costs You Over Time

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The everyday purchases we make of five or ten dollars may not seem significant, but when repeated day after day after day they become incredibly costly. Breaking your routine spending habits and cutting back expenses just a little bit over time can lead to large benefits to your future self.

To illustrate this, let's look at what an average person might spend every day on food during an average working day where they buy a morning coffee, go out to lunch with co-workers, then hit the vending machines for an afternoon snack.

Morning Coffee

Last time I checked, a 20 oz. cup of simple coffee at Starbucks costed $2.35. On the other hand, many offices have free coffee available to workers. Even if your office doesn’t offer free coffee, you can make a 20 oz. cup of coffee at home for around 10 cents.

This chart shows how not spending $2.35 per workday adds up over time. This chart and all of the other charts below assumes you work 5 days per week, 50 weeks per year, and any savings you realize are invested once per month and grow at a rate of 8% per year.

 

  Coffee from coffee shop Free coffee at office Coffee from home
       
Cost 2.35 - 0.10
Daily savings   2.35 2.25
Weekly savings   11.75 11.25
Monthly savings   48.96 46.88
Annual savings   587.50 562.50
Investment balance after 10 years   8,957.04 8,576.51
Investment balance after 20 years   28,838.44 27,613.28
Investment balance after 30 years   72,968.00 69,868.05

 

Lunch

The cost of lunch at a restaurant can vary widely of course. At the low end I have heard Clark claim many times that an average lunch will cost him around $3. On the high end, it’s not too hard to get carried away and spend $20 on lunch at a fancier place. For the sake of our calculations, lets say you go to Subway, America’s second biggest restaurant chain, and get the turkey sandwich, chips, and drink, which will cost you about $6.

A much lower cost alternative would be to make your own turkey sandwich at home and bring along some chips you bought from the grocery store. I used ArtofBeingCheap.com’s recipe cost calculator and found that 2 slices of bread, along with a serving of sliced turkey, mayo, cheese, lettuce, and a side of chips will cost you around $1.54.

ARTICLE: 5 Cheap Options for Organic Food

If you don’t always have time in the morning to make yourself a sandwich before work, the most popular meal at my office around lunch time is frozen dinners, such as Lean Cuisine. Those aren’t a bad deal either, as you can pick one up for about $2. So let's see how much you can save by not going out to lunch:

 

  Sandwich, chips & drink from Subway Sandwich, chips & drink from home Frozen meal
       
Cost 6.00 1.54 2.00
Daily savings   4.46 4.00
Weekly savings   22.30 20.00
Monthly savings   92.92 83.33
Annual savings   1,115.00 1,000.00
Investment balance after 10 years   16,999.35 15,244.89
Investment balance after 20 years   54,731.78 49,083.07
Investment balance after 30 years   138,484.20 124,191.65

 

Afternoon Snack

It is not unusual to start to feel just a little hungry late in the afternoon, so we will say that our imaginary average worker hits the vending machines to get a bag of chips and a can of soda for $1.75. That doesn’t seem too expensive, but you could save a little buying chips from the grocery store and bringing them with you every day. A healthier alternative would be to bring a couple ounces of mixed nuts, which happens to be my favorite afternoon snack. Let’s see how the savings add up:

 

  Chips and drink
from vending machine
Chips from home Mixed nuts
Cost 1.75 0.44 0.75
Daily savings   1.31 1.00
Weekly savings   6.55 5.00
Monthly savings   27.29 20.83
Annual savings   327.50 250.00
Investment balance after 10 years   4,992.60 3,810.77
Investment balance after 20 years   16,074.37 12,269.30
Investment balance after 30 years   40,671.91 31,044.19

 

Total cost of food from a day of work

Those are some pretty big numbers, so now I am curious what happens when we add all the potential savings from those small purchases together:

 

  Total daily cost of
coffee, restaurant
meal and snack from vending machine
Total cost of cheaper options
Cost 10.10 1.98
Daily savings   8.12
Weekly savings   40.60
Monthly savings   169.17
Annual savings   2,030.00
Investment balance after 10 years   30,948.99
Investment balance after 20 years   99,644.59
Investment balance after 30 years   252,124.11

Pretty incredible right? After 10 years I would be able to save up enough for a luxury car (my idea of a luxury car might be different than yours), after 20 years I could save up enough to completely pay for the first house I owned, and after 30 years I would have enough to completely pay for the house I own now, plus 2 luxury cars!

The lesson here is that savings accounts are like a brick building. They can be be built brick by brick, day by day, and after all those small pieces are put together they can grow into something enormous.

ARTICLE: 7 Protein-Packed Foods Cheaper Than Beef



About the author: Andy Prescott runs ArtofBeingCheap.com, where he writes articles aimed at taking a bite out of overspending.

How To Handle Home Maintenance on a Budget

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As a single mother of three, I decided it would be best to use the FHA loan program to purchase a drastically reduced foreclosure and get instant equity, plus a mortgage payment less than my former rent.

That left a little wiggle room for maintenance and the potential to renovate over time. Here are some ways I've found to make it work.

 

4 ways to deal with home maintenance on the cheap

1. Get an Inspection Before You Buy

Plumbing, electrical, roofing, HVAC, and appliance repairs and replacements are some of the most expensive and unpredictable situations that often occur. That is why when purchasing a home, the optional $500-or-so inspection may be a sound investment. (Editor's note: Clark likes inspectors that are certified by the American Society of Home Inspectors.)

The results of the inspection may help you decide whether or not to purchase a home, negotiate necessary repairs into the sale contract, or negotiate a reduction in the sale price.

Prepare a list of questions you would like to ask the inspector, and do not be afraid to get dirty as you follow through for visual comprehension. Be especially sure to locate the breaker box and all plumbing valves so you have a working knowledge of them. Be sure too that everything passes inspection and is up to code.

While things will break in a home, you want to be sure you get a home where the bones are good, as they say in the real estate industry.

2. Make Sure You Have Adequate Insurance

Homeowner’s insurance is another important investment, and it’s generally included within an FHA mortgage payment. Be sure to review the policy carefully, verifying specific coverage and exclusions. Additional coverage may need to be purchased, such as flood insurance, even if you’re not in a flood zone.

ARTICLE: Best and Worst Home Insurers

3. Be More Open-Minded and Less Materialistic

Imagine a home with boxed-window air conditioning units instead of central air, an indoor/outdoor grill and portable electric hot plates in place of a stove, and linoleum flooring instead of hardwoods. The home is just as functional either way, and it sure beats homelessness, right?

Dirt cheap household items may be found online, at flea markets, thrift stores, through bartering services, etc. In addition, many low-income workers often receive significant tax refunds which may be invested in the home, among other things, every year.

4. Do It Yourself..Or Use Your Connections

Subscribe to home improvement magazines and newsletters, and study free online videos. (Editor's note: Learn how one ClarkHoward.com staffer saved $132 on home repairs just by watching a YouTube video!)

Practice repairs on items that will not take away from the functionality of your home, and you’ll be surprised how much time and money can be saved. All it takes is your sweat equity. One thing is for sure: The local home improvement store will become your best friend!

If you’re working for minimum wage, chances are your employer’s maintenance person is too, or even your landlord’s maintenance person. Become well-acquainted with these people, so when the honey-do list is full, you may be able to have professional services at a low cost.

ARTICLE: How To Get Trusted Referrals for Home Repair



About the author: Jennifer Kindle is the author of How To Buy a House on Minimum Wage, an Amazon ebook. She is a low-income single mom who refuses to let poverty win.

How To Avoid Going Into Debt for the Holidays

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With the holidays around the corner, it is time to start thinking of everything that comes with the season. From putting up lights on your house to buying gifts for your loved ones, there is a lot to get done. Because of this, the Christmas season can be stressful and the last thing you want to do is rack up a bunch of debt during this time.

5 Ways to Avoid Using Debt When Purchasing Gifts

1. Freeze Your Credit Card

Literally. Take a bucket, fill it with water, put your credit cards inside it, and then put it in the freezer. This will help you avoid using credit to fund your shopping as it will take you quite some time to chisel them loose from the block of ice that now surrounds them. This technique simply puts time and effort between you and the impulse purchase, giving you the opportunity to think twice about how your impending action will affect your financial goals.

2. Use a Countdown Fund

A Countdown Fund is a savings fund that you contribute to on a regular basis for a goal that you have established. For our purposes, we will be saving up to buy gifts this Christmas. If you typically spend $600 at Christmas and if you have two pay periods left before Christmas, then take $300 per paycheck so that you have the money you need to buy your gifts without going into debt. Ideally, you should start a Countdown Fund at the beginning of the year so that you do not need to put as much money aside from each paycheck. For instance, if you start saving in January for Christmas next year, you will only need $50 per month to achieve your goal in December ($50 x 12 = $600).

3. Give a Voucher

Believe it or not, there are number of gift ideas that cost little-to-no money at all. A voucher is one way to save money and avoid the use of debt. Consider creating a voucher that is redeemable for something that the recipient would actually like. For instance, my wife likes to have a night out with the girls, so I have considered creating a voucher that is worth “One night of watching the kid at the time of your choosing.” Our first child is due in January, so I am sure that she will appreciate this gift. Other ideas for vouchers include a neck or foot massage, dog sitting, or even a game or craft night. Offering your time and skills to those you care about is always a great gift. Consider giving the voucher in a jar of someone’s favorite candy, or with a note expressing how much you care about them. Get free printable gift vouchers here.

4. Create Something Meaningful

If you are the type of person who is creative and that likes DIY projects, then this is probably the best option for you. Consider using your talent to create something that is meaningful for your loved-ones. I have seen people make quilts, clothes, and even furniture; the sky's the limit. Websites like Pinterest and YouTube are perfect for DIY projects. Pinterest has literally thousands of ideas, and YouTube is a great way to learn how to make various crafts. Simply search “DIY” on either site and you find will plenty of ideas to inspire you. You may even find yourself a new hobby that lasts beyond the holidays!

ARTICLE: 4 Items To Always Buy Used

5. Browse Amazon Wish list

You know the scenario: You go to the mall looking for that perfect gift for someone and you actually find it! But there’s a catch. It’s double what you were hoping to spend, but it’s just so perfect that you get it anyway. And besides, if you don’t get it right now it might sell out and be gone forever! Sound familiar? I’ve done this many times. A great way to get someone the perfect gift and maintain control of the cost is to check out what they have on their Amazon wish list. This not only shows you what they want, it allows you to assess the price in a less emotional setting than a store. Shopping on Amazon is also great because you can see your total at checkout and adjust your basket, instead of trying to add up multiple totals from different stores as you run around the mall to see if you’re within your budget.

ARTICLE: The # 1 Secret You Don't Know About Outlet Shopping

All of these suggestions are meant to help you stay within your budget this holiday season, but the best way to stay in your budget is to make up your mind not to blow it! It can be difficult when you find the perfect (way too expensive) gift, or when your kids use their big eyes to beg you, but if you stand strong and commit to honoring the amount that you have agreed on you will have a far less stressful and much more enjoyable holiday.



About the author: Check out more money related tips from Deacon on his blog WellKeptWallet.com or follow him on Twitter.

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