Monthly Archives: September 2014

Mentors – Who Represents Your Business?

Mentors in small business can affect your bottom line!

Everyone has mentors. Some mentors teach you what to do. Other mentors teach you what NOT to do.

At 18, I got my first “real”, full-time job. The company serviced offshore oil rigs, and the drilling crews who lived and worked there.

Mentors are everywhere - photo of offshore oil rig

Mentors are everywhere, even in the oil field

When you are 100+ miles off the coast, working seven days a week, 12 hours per day, you don’t have time to “hit the drive-thru” for a burger after work, go grocery shopping, wash your laundry, or scrub your toilets. You’re too busy chasing black gold, pushing pipe, and swinging from the monkey board. You work hard, in all kinds of weather, at all hours of the day. It is good money, but you earn every dollar!

So, my employer provided kitchen and housekeeping services for drilling companies. We cooked, washed dishes, swept, mopped, changed and made beds, washed towels, sheets, and laundry, scrubbed toilets, and so forth. We were like the hotel staff for an oil field “resort”.

Yep, I was 18, and had hated washing dishes and cleaning my room in my parent’s home. Now, I was doing it as a full-time job. I’m sure my mother probably enjoyed the irony. 🙂

The training mentors were older and “wiser” in the ways of the world. Most had been through various jobs and marriages before ending up on a “resort” in the oil field. Like the roughnecks they served, they worked hard, lived dangerously, and partied like rock stars when they made it ashore.

Most of my training mentors didn’t pay much attention to me, the skinny, awkward “man”. They didn’t take an interest in me as a person, and they didn’t make a long-term impression on me. However, some twenty-five years later, I still remember one mentor.

The oil rig I was working on at the time was a few miles off the coast of Louisiana. In that part of the world, good Cajun food is a requirement, and rice is a mealtime staple. I don’t remember the name of this training mentor, so we’ll call him “Bob”. Bob was an older man, nearing retirement age, very crotchety.

As the “new kid”, I was working nights, so when I came to the galley to eat “breakfast” before starting work, it was approaching dinner time (for the day shift). As was the normal routine, there was Cajun food out for dinner, and I was going to eat that for my breakfast. I had previously noticed that Bob would cover the uneaten rice after the meals, and put it back out the next day.

No problem. Growing up as the oldest of four children, I was used to Mom doing that at home.

However, that day, when I went to add some rice to my Cajun “breakfast”, I noticed that there was mold growing on the cooked rice. Although money was tight growing up, and four hungry kids would have probably finished leftover rice long before mold would have started growing, I have no doubt Mom would have thrown moldy rice away.

Anyway, I grabbed the bowl and headed toward the trash can, pointing out the mold to Bob. He grabbed the bowl from my hands, growled at me to “shut the #@*% up”, and proceeded to rinse off the rice before placing it right back on the food line for the crew.

O_o

I have no idea why Bob did this. He wasn’t paying for the groceries himself. Our company was not stingy with the groceries. We had weekly steak night, weekly seafood night, and the kitchen was open 24/7. As far as I know, there were no “cost cutting profit-sharing” systems. The economy was good, and the oil business was especially good.

Twenty five years later, I still remember his actions.

Today, I have a small business. Contract employees work for me, and represent my company name. I want to be sure to mentor them the right way.

What did I learn from this “demented” mentor?

* Some people should not be trusted with your company name, much less as a mentor for your new staff.

As an impressionable new guy, this “mentor” was tasked with teaching me the corporate culture, and proper procedures. “Feed your client moldy rice” was probably not what the home office had in mind.

* Some people are penny wise, and dollar dumb.

Bob “saved” a few cents worth of rice.

Rice is cheap, oil is expensive.

Bad PR is even more expensive. If the crew had gotten food poisoning, it could have slowed or even stopped them from drilling. Just one shift  would have cost the drilling company thousands of dollars, or more.

My “mentor” would have lost his job. My employer probably would have lost their contract on that rig, and possibly the contracts for all the other rigs operated by that drilling company. Due to oil field gossip, my employer could have lost other contracts with other drilling companies in the region.

I wish “Undercover Boss” had been around back then. I found out later from co-workers that this was a regular occurrence, but that Bob had connections in high places within the company. They were apparently letting him coast to finish out his time until retirement.

What about you? Have you ever had a “demented mentor”? Have you ever worked for someone who taught you more lessons about what NOT to do, than they did about the right way to do things?

Reduce Electrical Bills – Improve your Budget

Reduce Electrical Bills with these simple tips

I have been trying to find ways to reduce electric bills. It is one of the largest expenses every month for our family. Following are some tips I have found.

Washing – Do not run washing machines (dish or clothes) until you have a full load.

Drying – Clean the lint trap on your clothing dryer. Not only will this help reduce electrical bills, it can help your dryer last longer. Modern dryers measure the temperature of the air to adjust how hot the heating element needs to be. If your lint trap is plugged, it can cause the temperature readings to be incorrect. This can cause excessive electrical use.

I also found out the hard way, lint buildup can cause your heating element to run hotter than it should. At best, this can cause the heating element to overheat and need early replacement. At worst, it could cause a dangerous lint fire. Thankfully in our case, I just had to replace the heating element, which was partially melted.

Line Dry – Hang your clothes outside. Reduce electrical bills while getting fresh air! If you are embarrassed about your underwear hanging outside, buy a laundry pole that will hold three to four lines. Hang sheets and towels on the outer lines. Hang your unmentionables on the inner lines, so that the sheets will hide most of them.

If your clothes are stiff when line dried, it is likely that not all of the detergent has been washed out of the cloth. There are many recipes for making your own laundry at home (another money saving tip). Most of the home made laundry detergents will not leave your clothes feeling rough and stiff when dried on a line.

Hot Water – Put an insulation blanket on your water heater. Better yet, get an instant hot water unit or a solar pre-heater. Turn down the temperature on the water heater a few degrees is another suggestion to reduce electrical bills.

Climate – Adjust your thermostat, and run a ceiling fan in conjunction with your HVAC unit. This can help reduce electrical bills year-round. During the summer, our temperature inside is around 78*, and during the winter, it’s about 65*. We wear shorts and lightweight shirts during the summer, and socks, flannel pants, and warm shirts or sweaters during the winter.

Heating – Maintaining creature comforts can be tough in the winter. Use a room / space heater to reduce electrical bills. This will heat only the room you are using. This allows you to leave the rest of the house at a cooler temperature. I do this in my DJ practice area, and in our bedrooms at night. Of course, if you have an open concept house, or on the weekends when everyone is home and in different rooms, this may not work as well.

Upgrade – Replace your old mercury switch thermostat with a new smart or programmable unit. I’ve never used one, but the Nest is very popular. I replaced our old thermostat with a programmable unit. The thermostat was around $100, IIRC. We had a heat pump system, so the thermostat was more expensive. However, being able to program the temperatures to our schedule, I was able to reduce electrical bills, which paid for the thermostat very quickly. Since I did the work myself, there was no installation cost.

Lighting – Simply replacing lightbulbs can reduce electrical bills. New LED bulbs are expensive, but you can sometimes find good deals on multi-packs. Replace halogen floor torch lamps and incandescent bulbs. Don’t buy the CFL “curly Q” bulbs, as they are filled with mercury, a toxic heavy metal.

Reduce electrical bills without using candles

Reduce electrical bills?

I buy lights made by CREE, rather than GE for a couple of reasons. Not due to their lighting specifically, but because of GE’s business practices, and tax dodges.

Instead of leaving the light in the hallway on, or the vent-a-hood light over the stove on, use LED nightlights. These use pennies of electricity each year, which will reduce electrical bills while still providing area light for safety.

Use fluorescent light tubes in your shop, garage, or basement. They produce little heat, use very little electricity, and provide a nice even lighting for safety in the shop.

Charging – Charge your cell phone and laptop at work or in the car, rather than leaving them plugged in at home all the time.

Vampires – Get power strips, so you can flip one switch to kill all the power to several devices at one time. This will reduce electrical bills by preventing “vampire” loss. Modern electronic devices, such as TV’s, DVD players, computers, and microwaves all stay in a constant “low power” standby mode. The devices must have power to operate the receiver for the remote control, as well as the clock and calendar (used by your game console, for example). This causes the device to draw power, even when “turned off”. All this power being used by all these devices will add up each month.

Security – You can reduce electrical bills while still providing safety and ambiance outside your home. Consider installing outdoor lights on timers, light sensors, or motion sensors. Buy solar lights for walkways.

Windows – If you don’t have insulated windows, and cannot replace them, you can still prevent drafts and air leaks. We are currently renting. The house is old, with aluminum framed windows. It doesn’t make sense for the landlord to replace the windows, since they are functional, and the landlord doesn’t pay the light bill. I went to Lowe’s and bought a few packages of the plastic sheeting that goes over the windows inside the house. For less than $50, I was able to reduce electrical bills. I left the plastic up over the past year. We had less pollen and dust inside in the spring, and the interior stayed cooler in the summer. Winter will be here soon… The cost of the plastic will be divided by two years of service.

Doors – You can also reduce electrical bills if you make sure your doors are weatherstripped properly. Our doors are warped, so even with proper “real” weatherstrip, they still leak air badly. I need to work on them this autumn. Last winter, on REALLY cold days, I used “gaff tape” to seal around the cracks. It was too cold to remove the doors and try to fix them properly. Gaff tape looks like duct tape, but doesn’t leave adhesive, and won’t pull the paint off the walls or doors. It is about $20 per roll, but I use it for my DJ business to tape down wires at events. I just stuck it to the doors, and at night, stuck it to the door frame to seal off the gaps. Since it didn’t peel the paint, when we left in the morning, we could just open the door.

What tips have you found to reduce electrical bills?

Cheap electronics 2 – Hunting for the bargain

Cheap electronics – How to shop and get the best price

As I mentioned in the previous post, I like electronics, especially cheap electronics. So, if you want to get cheap electronics, how do you do that?

Start with the manufacturer. Many manufacturers will refurbish and resell their own products. They definitely know their products, know where to get the parts to repair them, and know how to make sure they work correctly. After all, they built the unit in the first place!

Apple is one of the best known examples of manufacturers offering quality refurbished products. I looked at purchasing a refurbished MacBook Pro, and that was exactly where I went. With OEM parts, and Apple staff installing, you know it will be done right. I have been very happy with my HD Sony TV, and have been told that Sony is another company who offers refurbished products. So, start at the manufacturer’s website and look for “discounts”, “specials”, or “refurbished” items when looking for cheap electronics.

Wait for special pricing. Certain times of the year are best for buying cheap electronics. Black Friday is probably the best known single day, but retailers and manufacturers often run specials at other times of the year. They may be planning to clear out inventory, or perhaps a new product is about to be released. Look on their website for a place to sign up for “email specials”.

Warranty Coverage. A benefit of buying new is the warranty. When you buy new, the manufacturer and sometimes, the retailer, provides a warranty on the product, covering the parts and labor to repair. The warranty may simply provide a replacement unit. Either way, it is good coverage for your new cheap electronics.

Refurbished items may also come with a warranty. It may not be as long as the original warranty, say six months to a year, instead of two or three years. However, it does provide some reassurance that if the repair was done poorly, you will not be stuck if it dies next week. Usually, buying from the manufacturer will provide the best warranty on the refurbished item.

Research your options. Don’t impulse buy if you really want to get cheap electronics. Search Google, Amazon, or cnet are places to look for reviews. eBay is a great place to find pricing information, especially if you are considering buying refurbished or used. You may find a different product or manufacturer which could suit your needs even better.

Know when to buy new. There are some items to avoid buying refurbished. Printers, TV’s, and external hard drives come to mind. Printers will be difficult to get completely clean, TV’s are bulky and hard to ship safely, and external hard drives are so easy to drop or damage in shipping. Even if the manufacturer refurbishes these, I would strongly consider buying new.

Buy a bundle. Sometimes, a manufacturer or retailer will put together a bundle or a package deal, such as a desktop computer, a monitor, and a printer. These bundles can be a good deal, but if possible, try to get the exact specs and model numbers to be sure they have the specs you need.

How do you get the best deal on cheap electronics? Tell us about your experience!

Credit Report pulled for Auto Insurance?

GEICO Pulled My Credit Report ?

As I mentioned recently, I have been looking for car insurance. I ended up going with GEICO. They offer employee discounts to people at my corporate day job. I went from Progressive with 25/50/25, to GEICO with 50/100/30, plus 50/100 uninsured motorist BI, and $30,000 uninsured motorist PD, with a $250 deductible. I ended up with significantly more coverage, and better coverage, for about $1.25 more premium cost per month.

Today, I got the following “legally required notice from GEICO” in my email box:


Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act Disclosure Notice

Thank you for contacting GEICO for a rate quote. As a result of your request for a rate quote, we asked the consumer reporting agency listed below to provide us with your credit information. This information is used in combination with other factors to determine the rate we offer. The price we quoted you may have been lower if the consumer reporting agency had been able to access your credit record.

The reason that the consumer reporting agency could not access your credit record was that there was no matching information at the credit bureau given the name, address, social security number and or date of birth that we have on file. Your credit record may be accessible by the use of more detailed information than was available to GEICO.

Please note that the consumer reporting agency did not participate in our decision. They are unable to provide you with specific reasons for our decision.

The consumer reporting agency provided the following description of the credit factors that had the most influence on the price we quoted you:

-Your credit report contained insufficient credit history for insurance underwriting purposes. (-)

If you have questions concerning the unavailability of your credit record, or would like to obtain a free copy of your credit report, you may contact the consumer reporting agency whose address is listed below within 60 days of receiving this notice. You also may dispute the accuracy or completeness of any information provided by the consumer reporting agency by contacting them directly at the address below.


I don’t really care about my credit report or credit score. I don’t borrow money. I choose to operate by the cash method. If I don’t have cash, (or money in the checking account), I don’t buy. I don’t get credit cards for mileage, cash back, or reward points.

There is “no free lunch”. Those “freebies” will be paid for some other way. It’s Vegas, baby… eventually, the house always wins. How else do you think banks and insurance companies can afford those extravagant palaces known as “the home office”?

Anyway, the email from GEICO surprised me. I didn’t realize they were allowed to pull my credit report. I learned Section 604 of the FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act) allows the Credit Reporting Agencies to give your credit report to any company which plans to underwrite insurance on you.

According to FICO, approximately 95% of auto insurers, and 85% of homeowner insurers use credit-based insurance scores in states where the practice is legal. NAIC (National Association of Insurance Commissioners) says the practice started in the early 1990’s.

According to this article, FICO considers five items:

  • Payment History – 40% – how well you have made payments in the past
  • Outstanding Debt – 30% – how much debt you have now
  • Credit History Length – 15% – how long you have had credit accounts
  • Pursuit of New Credit – 10% – if you have applied for new credit recently
  • Credit Mix – 5% – what types of credit you have

So, 70% of your credit score is based on you being in debt, staying in debt, and remaining current with debt. I think the practice is predatory.

If a person has a lower income, they will have a lower score on their credit report. Not necessarily because they pay their bills late, but simply because part of your credit score is based on how much you borrow, and how long you stay in debt. If you don’t borrow much, and don’t stay in debt, your credit report suffers. This can negatively impact their insurance premiums.

If you lose your job and fall behind on your credit card payments, as I did, will your insurance premiums rise? My credit report was pretty bad for a long time. It also seems to penalize someone who could not work due to a medical problem, for example. Kick a guy when they are down, eh?

Thank you, sir… May I have another?

Soldiers put man in stocks

Credit Report beating you?

Most people have a blemishes on their credit report. I did after I lost my job. Most bankruptcies are related to job loss, medical bills, or divorce. In many cases, the person seeking insurance had no control over these factors. Yet, they are being (potentially) penalized with higher insurance premiums, because the insurer relies heavily on the credit report.

According this article on United Policyholders,

With some insurance companies, a consumer with the worst credit score – everything else equal – can pay two, three or four times as much as a consumer with best credit score. But even though your credit history is likely to have more impact on your premium than any other factor – your driving record or the condition of your home – insurers don’t advertise their use of credit information. Instead, you will see commercials claiming responsible drivers save money – even though a driver with a clean record can pay more than a driver with an accident or violation because of credit history.

As this Mint.com article points out, follow the money. Insurance companies want to know how profitable you would be as a customer. Apparently, the way you manage your credit report predicts what kind of insurance customer you will be.

Statistically speaking, that assumption must have some validity. Otherwise, the insurance companies would not pay for the credit report.

However, I’m not sure how accurate that is on an individual basis. I’ve had auto insurance for over two decades, have never had a claim, and according to GEICO, the CRA says I have “insufficient credit history” for underwriting.

So, it looks like GEICO lost money buying my credit report. 🙂 lol

Five simple tips to trim the budget

Five Simple Ways to Reduce your Expenses and Trim the Budget

Trim the budget - photo of scissors cutting money

Trim the budget – five simple ways to reduce your expenses

At the end of every month, you should review your budget for the following month. I just did that last week. That way, you know how much money should come in, as well as when and where it will be coming from. Equally as important, this will show how much money is going out, as well as when and where it is going. Increasing your income is great, but most of us can find ways to trim the budget more readily than we can find ways to increase the income as much.

If you are spending more than you make, you can’t simply print more money and keep spending. Only the government can do that. Unlike our clueless clowns politicians, you have to choose… trim the budget, expand the income, or some combination of those two options. Increasing income is the best option.

However, generating additional income can be difficult for some people. A previous employer of mine forbid their employees from working a part-time job, small business, or any other “side hustles”.

Several years ago, I worked with a lady who’d had heart surgery. Her doctor wouldn’t release her to work full-time. She received a disability income from the government, if I remember correctly, and worked part-time for the company I worked for at the time. If she earned above a certain amount, which was less than it would take for her to be self-sufficient, she would lose the disability income, which was also not enough for her to live on. So, she was stuck in a dead-end, low-paying job several years, living with her kids and grandkids, until her full retirement / SSI kicked in. She was unable to earn enough to get off disability, and unable to earn enough staying on disability.

No matter your income level, chances are, there are steps you can take to reduce your recurring monthly expenses. This article will look at a few ways to trim the budget.

Thermostat – One of the easiest ways to trim the budget is to reduce your monthly electric bill. You can do this if you adjust your thermostat by a couple of degrees. We keep our thermostat at 78* during the summer, and 68* during the winter. In our previous home, which we owned, I replaced the old-fashioned thermostat with a programmable unit. It would adjust the temps to 82* during the summer, and 65* during the winter while we were gone to work, and then readjust them just before we normally got home. At night during the winter, after our normal bed time, it would let the temp drop to 60* while we were sleeping. We were under the blankets, so it was not a problem.

Dryer – When I was growing up in SE Texas, during the summer, we hung our laundry outside to dry. This is a very easy way to trim the budget. The dryer is a huge electricity hog, so doing this consistently can have a big impact on your monthly bill. During the winter, you can run the dryer for half the time, then let the clothes air dry on an indoor line. This can also add moisture to the indoor air, which is usually very dry during the winter.

TV – Do you really need all those channels? Do you really NEED any channels? Trim the budget by downsizing or eliminating your TV bill. Over the past decade, we saved hundreds of dollars merely by turning off our pay TV services. At least consider getting rabbit ears and see if you can pull in any local stations, if you “MUST” have TV.

Phone – Do you actually use your land line? As a step to trim the budget, we cancelled ours almost a decade ago. We realized most of our callers were either telemarketers, or politicians. Everyone else called our cell phone. Since you can take your cell phone number if you move to a different provider, consider dropping your land line. If you must keep your land line for DSL or the alarm system, drop all of the extra services, like call waiting and caller ID.

Internet – We have basic DSL, without a land line phone, from our local phone company. I would love to have cable internet speed, but realistically, I don’t need that speed all the time. I am a mobile DJ, and purchase my music online. It takes longer to download than I wish, but as a way to trim the budget, I have stayed with a slower speed service. Can you deal with a slower connection speed for monthly savings?

These five simple methods to trim the budget can potentially save you $50 to $100 or more per month. That is $600 to $1200 or more per year. How much more would you need to earn to have that much after taxes?

How about you? What are some simple tips you use to trim the budget? What has been your biggest saver so far?

 

Healthy Savings are not just a walk in the park

Healthy Savings – ideas to keep your budget, and your health, in top shape

“Healthy Savings” can describe a large discount. Healthy Savings can also be a play on words, to describe a situation where you save money, while partaking in healthy activities. This is the definition I will be writing about in this article.

Face it, what good is the lifestyle you work hard for, if you are so sick, tired, or out of shape that you can’t enjoy it? How many people do you know who worked hard, sacrificed, and saved their entire life for a great retirement, only to be unable to do the things they want to do? No one knows the future, and there are no guarantees, but usually people who take care of themselves live longer with better quality of life than those who do not.

Gym memberships are incredibly popular. They can also be incredibly expensive. Many people sign up with good intentions, but then, drop out. Unfortunately, due to how the contracts are designed, if you don’t use your membership, you don’t get a break on the price. Often, there is a minimum one year contract with monthly auto-drafts, whether you work out daily, or never darken the door. So, how can we take care of body and our budget at the same time?

Of course, you can simply put a treadmill, free weights, or machines at your house, and work out on your schedule. However, many people prefer being able to work out with others, and find the accountability of your exercise partner to be very beneficial.

Following are five ways you can have free or nearly free gym access.

Membership Benefit – Many large companies have a gym at the headquarters. They know that healthy employees are less likely to miss work due to illness. See if your company would consider installing a basic gym at your facility.

A free gym down the hallway from your office would be majorly Healthy Savings! If you work remotely, or are not close to the headquarters, do they have partnerships with any of the national gym chains, such as Gold’s Gym? I worked for a company which offered a 20-25% discount to the gym membership, plus no initiation fee. IIRC, since the bill was taken out automatically pre-tax, it also lowered the employee’s taxable income.

Attend college – When I was single, and living near Houston, the local community college had a small, but nice, gym. Racquetball, tennis, basketball, and a weight room. As a student, even if only taking one class per semester, you had gym access at no charge. That is Healthy Savings, Professor!

Side Hustle – Does your local gym need someone to work the front desk a few hours per month? Do you have fitness training where you could team up with a trainer to assist? Could you start your own part-time fitness or training business? Healthy Savings for free facility access, plus a side hustle income.

Personal Trainer – Some personal trainers will team up with a local gym for Healthy Savings. They will host their personal fitness training at the gym. Access to the gym is generally included with your training fees. Often, the gym will allow you to use the facilities outside of your “official” class time.

Free Pass – Many gyms will offer free day passes to try out the facilities. Often, “mom & pop” gyms are very generous. They don’t have the name recognition and fancy facilities that the national chains have, which can add up to Healthy Savings for you. You may find them to be much more willing to offer free passes, or special pricing to earn your business.

Also, many “mom & pop” gym operators are not really trying to run their gym as a business, but more as a serious hobby. Basically, the owners like to work out, and they like to socialize with others who like to work out; a gym gives them an easy way to do that. All the gear is a tax write-off, and they get to have a great workout facility and do something they love. If they make a little money too… score! 🙂 Since they are not in it for the money, they may be more generous with passes.

Keep in mind all of the exercise routines which do not require gym access. One of my favorites is from the US Army.

Healthy Savings - photo of soldier

Healthy Savings … the Army way.

I can attest to the quality of the training. It is full of distance running, sprinting, stretching, jumping, and body weight exercises, like sit-ups, push-up, and more. There are many other routines you can follow as well, such as Crossfit. Combined with proper nutrition, your budget and your waistline will slim down.

Healthy Savings can help you enjoy the lifestyle you work for.

What other ways have you come up with to experience Healthy Savings? What is the best value for gym membership you have discovered?