Lowering the Cost of “the American Dream” – Part II

by Miata on September 8th, 2014

(This article continues the discussion on lowering expenses found here)AmericanDream2

In our first installment two weeks ago, I discussed ways you could drop the cost of the American Dream by lowering your essential expenses such as groceries, car expenses and apparel. Today, I’d like to tackle lowering the cost of the “extras” that USA Today calculated are important parts of what many consider a happy lifestyle. We’re creative people….lowering the cost of creative activities should be easy for us, right?

USA Today assigns $17,009 to extras, and breaks them down like this:

Family Summer Vacation: $4,580

Entertainment: $3,667

Restaurants: $3,662

Cable, Satellite, Internet, Cell Phone: $3,100

Miscellaneous Costs: $2,000

Good news! All of these costs can be lowered without giving up any happiness. How? Let’s dive in!

Family Summer Vacation: Let’s start with the most expensive parts of the trip and work down:

  • Rethink your definition of “vacation.” Sure, the trip to Europe sounds wonderful but for many, so does hiking in the closest state or national park. Wisely choose your vacations based on your overall budget. There are many things to see in your own back yard.
  • Use airfare tricks. Lots of websites can share how to get the best deals on air travel, but here’s a little-used one: widen your search to the day before or after you plan to travel and then “agree” to travel on a different day (your originally intended travel date). Many online studies have lately shown that you’ll get a cheaper rate on your intended travel date if the booking company thinks they’re talking you into a deal.
  • Discount websites. Try out hotel discount firms like Hotwire or Priceline. On a recent trip with his kids to Indianapolis, a good friend scored a room in downtown Indianapolis for $58 on a $145/night room. That’s some serious savings.
  • Watch the food budget. It’s fun to eat at neat places when you travel, but it’s also entertaining to grab food from a grocery and check out the local park.
  • Souvenirs? Are you really going to drink out of another coffee mug? Most souvenirs are brought home and forgotten. Take pictures and enjoy the sites rather than the junk shops.

Entertainment: You don’t want to cut the fun out of your vacation but also don’t want to pack two bags of money? Homework is the key to savings.

  • Research free entertainment around the destination you’re visiting. Many cities and parks offer free or low cost programs that often beat the paid attractions. Outdoor movies in a park, ranger programs, free museum days and farmer’s markets are all opportunities to have some fun while keeping your wallet intact.
  • Rethink the days/dates you’re traveling. The offseason in resorts might be a little less ideal weather-wise, but you’ll have the area to yourself and you’ll score some great deals from establishments just hoping to fill seats. Amusement parks are more crowded on some days than others (regional parks generally are crowded on weekends while destination parks are crowded on weekdays).
  • Staycation? If you’re really tight on money, ask yourself if this is the year you take some time off but explore your own hometown. Many people travel the world but never see the sights close to home.

Restaurants: Coupons, specials and drinks are the key here.

  • First, how often do you eat at restaurants? Try to cut back by eating in more often. Use a meal plan to have some fun with your dine-at-home dollars. Cooking together doesn’t have to be a chore. Turn up the music or ball game and have fun cooking and spending time with friends or family!
  • Check for coupons online when you visit a restaurant. Nearly all of the national chains have deals online (or can tell you which days offer the best value).
  • Ask your waiter if there are any discounts on the day you visit.
  • Buying alcohol? It pays to drink water and then pick up an after-dinner drink at the local liquor store. Instead of buying an $8 glass of wine, a $15 bottle of wine can last multiple meals!

Cable, Satellite, Internet, Cell Phone: You’ve heard most of the advice I’ll give you here, but most of us have some easy money-saving opportunities in this category.

  • Think about cutting the cord on cable or the satellite bill. Especially now with Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime and others, it’s easy to lower your cost of television while keeping the quality high. Love sports? Buy an antenna to pick up the local stations that cover many of the local and national interest events.
  • Internet – I probably can’t save you money here, but I can possibly add value. Many friends have been surprised when they’ve called their internet provider to find out that they can get a faster/better package for the amount they’re currently paying.
  • Ditch the expensive cell plan. Are you usually found in an area with wifi? Check out some of the new carriers offering wifi-based telephone. You only incur charges for your phone when you have to use the data plan. Watch out, though: data through these carriers can be more expensive than many of the big boys when you’re “off the wifi grid.”

Miscellaneous costs: $2,000 per year on miscellaneous costs doesn’t really surprise me, but let’s try and minimize these “unknown” expenses anyway!

  • Use apps like Mint or a good banking app to track your expenses.
  • Don’t carry cash. While people who carry cash are more likely to spend less at places like the grocery store, they’re also more likely to spend money on a whim that someone with only plastic would avoid.

…and there they are! Hopefully many of these tips help you lower your budget costs so that you have more money available to spend on your craft. At the very least, try to pick out one in each area for fun and see if you can find some new savings. And please write to let me know what worked! I love hearing success stories!

Lowering the Cost of “The American Dream” Part I

by Miata on August 25th, 2014

AmericanDreamA recent USA Today article caught my eye. They said that the “American Dream” now costs $130,000 a year. Wow! Even as someone who works with people on their money, I was astounded. For those wanting to focus on creative endeavors that can feel like an impossible amount.

….then I began reading.

Let’s take a look at their list of expenses and consider how we might be able to make the dream more affordable (for a complete list of expenses and how they arrived at each portion, here’s a link to the actual USA Today story). Today we’ll tackle just the essential expenses, and then in my next blog post I’ll break down the rest of the budget.

These expenses assume a family of four living in a $275,000 home.

Housing: $17,062

Groceries: 12,659

Car Expenses: $11,039

Medical Expenses: $9,144

Education Expenses: $4,000

Apparel: $2,631

Utilities: $1,956

Essentials Total: $58,491

Before I tear into these numbers, it’s important to note that most people don’t know what they spend, so all of these numbers look high. When I work with people on their budget they nearly always find that they’re spending more in each of these areas than they thought. Those little one-time expenses really begin adding up. Read the rest of this entry »

How Can I Decide Which Mortgage is Best?

by Miata on July 11th, 2014

TreeHouseThis week I want to focus on debt. Why? Many people have debts, but few have a debt strategy. If you’re going to focus on your craft, you should minimize distractions with confusing terms and high repayment options.

The biggest debt for most people is their mortgage, so we’ll start there.

Here’s some good news: mortgages don’t have to be ominous, and if you do them wisely, you can come out ahead on your mortgage decision.

Let’s start with what a typical mortgage looks like and then we’ll talk about money-saving strategies. Read the rest of this entry »

It Isn’t Enough to Care (a Guide to REALLY Perfecting Your Craft)

by Miata on June 30th, 2014

BrainFullA friend emailed me asking for help.

“I care so much about (my craft). Why does it always end up coming last?”

There’s a short answer to this question.

It isn’t enough to care.

I’d submit it isn’t even just about hard work.

It’s about systems.

Setting up systems to win is the key to your success. Financially, having systems for the right tasks is equally important.

The Sherlock Holmes Story

In one of the Sherlock Holmes books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, someone asks Sherlock about a piece of current events. Holmes replies that he has no idea what the person is talking about. The questioner is shocked. The great Sherlock Holmes doesn’t know something? Holmes replies that the mind is only so large. If you fill it with trivia, there won’t be room for the information you really need to be successful.

Practice The Sherlock Holmes Method of Systems

Your goal should be to fill your brain with your craft and the things that really matter to you. Therefore, everything that isn’t important shouldn’t take up very much space. Read the rest of this entry »

How Money Helps You Create Great Work

by Miata on June 16th, 2014

hand holds book of big idea“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me…Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful … that’s what matters to me.”
-Steve Jobs

I was speaking with a friend the other day who said, “No offense, but money people are so obsessed with cash that they forget to create. They’re so obsessed with profits that they miss the point of life.

To some degree, I think that’s true.

There are actually studies that have shown that many uber-rich people are mean and unkind, and money helped them become that way. The issue is when we believe we’ll avoid ever becoming that type of person, by simply never focusing on money.

That’s where the wheels come off the bus, so to speak.

Money isn’t a problem if you’re using it to create good in the world. Money isn’t an issue if you’re developing your craft and trying to ensure that your art is noticed.

Money only becomes an issue when all that you can think about is the pursuit of the next dollar. Read the rest of this entry »

Create a Business Plan for Your Craft and Your Life

by Miata on June 2nd, 2014

Letters On A Board Spelling Money And BusinessA business plan…. many creative people I know shy away from those two words….

First, they’ll tell me, their craft isn’t a business.

Second, they’re overly in love with the term “winging it.”

Yet, if you talk to top artists in nearly any field, they have a workmanlike precision to their art. They seem to be in the right place at the right time. How do they do it?

After studying successful people, I’ve found they all have one thing in common…. One thing that they may not all admit to, but that I’d refer to as a “business plan.”

A business plan is something that helps you focus your thoughts. It helps you decide where your opportunities are in life, so you can manage your time most effectively.

Sound like something you want for yourself and your craft?

Great! Then let’s help you climb to the top, shall we? Read the rest of this entry »

Avoiding Budget Buster Moments

by Miata on May 12th, 2014

Blocks Spelling Budget Falling Over As Symbol for Spending And BusinessWe’ve all had them: everything’s humming along fine with our craft and then there’s a special trip that “everyone else is going on.” Suddenly you’re spending money like a half-crazed couponer at a going out of business sale.

We call it the “budget buster” moment.

What is a budget buster moment? It’s when you’ve been a good saver for a long time and then feel like you deserve a treat.

Maybe you’ve worked on your craft harder than ever before.

Maybe you’ve kept a tight lid on your spending.

Maybe you’ve worked out and lost ten pounds.

Whatever the reason, you decide it’s time to celebrate. The budget goes out the window and you’re a money-spending, budget-busting fun person to hang out with… Read the rest of this entry »

How to Save Money for Retirement Tax Free

by Miata on April 25th, 2014

RothIRAIn our last newsletter, I shared some tips on picking the right investment for your goals. But for many of us, another big question is this: “Where do I actually hold my investments?”

Much like artists generally have themes that run through their work, a prevailing theme you’ll find in financial planning is, “take advantage of tax shelters whenever possible.”

What’s a Tax Shelter?

Right now, the concept of a tax shelter might be as foreign to you as someone speaking an unfamiliar language. Honestly, for years I didn’t know the difference between a 401k and an IRA… However, once you’re able to work through this mumbo-jumbo of alphabet tax shelter soup, you’ll find that it isn’t as hard as it seems.

For most of us, the place to start is a Roth IRA.

Read the rest of this entry »

With Low CD Rates, Where Do I Save?

by Miata on April 11th, 2014

SavingLet’s face it, as artists, we take plenty of risks with our craft. We don’t need undue risks with our investments.

Looking at CD rates last week, there’s nothing to grin about. According to Bankrate.com, the average one year CD is paying 0.23%. Looking for a higher return? If you lock your money up for five years in a CD you still are only going to earn 0.80%

To use my son’s word for lima beans, “Yuck.”

So if you’re going to save, but you don’t want risk, what do you do? Read the rest of this entry »

Four Apps To Kick Start Your Savings

by Miata on March 28th, 2014

SavingsI often hear stories from creative professionals about their difficulties saving money. I completely understand. When faced with a project today for our art versus some far off goal, it’s hard to put away a dollar that could help right now.

Yet, I also know that the only way to financial independence is to save for the future. Every dollar we spend now is a dollar that could have secured our dreams forever, instead of just duct taping them today.

So let’s make saving easier by utilizing technology to help reach our goals. Here are four resources to get you started. Read the rest of this entry »