Oct 12

Pros and Cons of Starting Your Own Business

businessHave you ever thought about quitting your job to start your own business? I know I’ve definitely dreamed about the day I can give my letter of resignation and hang my own shingle. I know several people who have started their own businesses and I’ve watched the risky, yet rewarding experience. That said, it’s probably not a good venture for everyone.

Some people do very well running their own business, while others thrive while working for someone else (and there’s nothing wrong with that!). Before taking the big leap to start your own business, you need to completely understand what you are getting yourself into. Many people don’t consider the pros and cons of starting their own business, jump right into it, and ultimately fall flat on their face. But after careful consideration and in-depth due diligence you’re prepared to run your own business, you shouldn’t be scared to give it a shot.

Starting Your Own Business: Advantages

According to Hostway, owning your own business is a completely different lifestyle. But it will take total commitment and determination to make the lifestyle work for you. Though there are drawbacks, here are some of the advantages to owning your own business:

  1. Work-life balance. Owning your own business enables you to find a balance between work and family that works for you. Many people find it frustrating to be at the beck and call of their employers. I hate being on-call, but it’s part of my job and it’s something I’ve had to learn to live with. You can also wind up working odd hours and not seeing much of your family, which means missing important family events and functions. Once you get into the groove of your own business, Inc notes that you can carve out time for family without sacrificing work time or vice versa.
  2. More work = More pay. You have the opportunity to make more money when you own your own business. When I see the direct impact of more work = more pay, it’s easy to get motivated and I want to work hard. Additionally, since you have no co-workers (unless you hire staff to help you), you can keep the money you earn for yourself. In most traditional jobs (unless you work for commission) the majority of your direct earnings never come back to you. When you own your own business you keep all of the revenue.
  3. You’re the boss. One of the best perks of owning your own business is that you are your own boss. I know I’m my own biggest critic, so I don’t need a boss telling me what to do. If you don’t like or benefit from taking orders from someone else, then going in to business for yourself might be the best option for you.
  4. Room for creative growth. It’s nearly impossible to get fired (unless you really don’t like yourself-wink). This takes the pressure off of minor mistakes you may and gives you the ability to use your creativity in ways you might not be able to in a traditional job.
  5. The Internet makes it “easy”. Years ago it would have been more difficult for someone to open their own business. You’d have to have extensive start-up money and a physical location. Thankfully, the Internet has really leveled the paying field, and you can now start a business, website or blog in your pjs from your basement. Programs such as Shopify help you run your business online.
  6. You’re in control. Whether you are going the traditional, physical business route, or beginning your business online, running your own business enables you to put roots where you want. You don’t have to live in a community you don’t like because that’s where your employer is located. If you run an online business you can live anywhere with Internet access. It also gives you the ability to travel frequently and/or vacation with your family without worrying about having vacation time, “approved” by your employer.

Starting Your Own Business: Disadvantages

Starting your own business can be awfully exciting, there are many drawbacks that some people don’t take in to consideration. If you,”under-think” everything and jump into business ownership without a well-thought out plan, you may end investing your money and time into a venture that fails. It is true that there are many advantages, but you need to be prepared for the disadvantages as well.

  1. Financial risk. This may sound obvious, but opening your own business may mean taking a big financial risk. This is especially true when you go the traditional route and end up renting or purchasing a building. You could invest thousands of dollars, only to find out down the road that the business just was not for you. Interestingly there are now a bunch of TV shows that document experts and celebrities stepping in to help failed businesses. Restaurant impossible anyone?
  2. Long hours. While it is true that you set your own hours, your hours may not truly be your own for years. Just ask a small business owner how many hours he/she spends working on her business. If you think a 50 hour work week is a lot, you’ve never met a small business owner. I can almost guarantee that starting a business will mean longer hours and fewer vacations (at least at first). Even if you do take a vacation, your mind never completely leaves your work.
  3. Income isn’t guaranteed. When you first start your business you it may take a while for business to pick up. If you can’t afford to go a few months without income and don’t have a good sized emergency fund, then you might want to think twice about starting your own business. Most folks I know who have started their own businesses have worked on building the business part-time on the side while they were still working their regular salaried jobs. That way when they took the leap into being a business owner, they already knew they could make the money necessary to survive.
  4. Benefits and taxes. When you’re self-employed you’re the one paying your taxes. What seems like a ton of money (gross) is much less once Uncle Sam takes his cut. Benefits like health insurance, life insurance and retirement matches are non-existent unless you fund them yourself. With the state of our current health insurance industry here in the US, health insurance is a real obstacle for people who are self-employed (and one you should carefully consider before starting out on your own). By the time you pay those premiums you might have very little money left over to live on.
  5. You’re not alone. Not to be a negative Nancy, but everyone thinks they have what it takes to start their own business. But do you have what it takes to really, “make it work?”. You may have a great idea for a business, but there are hundreds of people out there with the same great idea. What makes you better and how dedicated are you to making it work? What makes you stand out and what’s going to make you succeed?

Ready to quit that day job and hang your own shingle? Are you self-employed? Do you want to be? At some point in the future I’d definitely like to start my own business and work for myself, but for right now, I’m happy working for someone else and building my skills, while not having to worry about how I’m going to get paid.

Sep 29

4th Quarter Goals

goalsI can’t believe that it’s almost October! It feels like just yesterday we were making New Years Resolutions (well, I didn’t really make any, but I enthusiastically read everyone else’s!) and now another year is coming to a close.

Don’t worry, I know we still have a few months left and I’m not trying to rush through the rest of the year. Instead, I’m using this as an opportunity to reflect on progress I’ve made so far, and finish up a few projects before the year comes to an end.

Here’s what I’ll be working on for the next 3 months:

Money Goals:

  • Save $1500 a month. We’re saving towards a down payment on our next home (if/when we decide to buy again we decided we will keep our current condo as an investment property).
  • Cancel grandma’s phone on my family plan. She never uses it, so my grandfather has suggested that I cancel the plan. I’ve been meaning to do this for months but just haven’t had the time have been lazy. I’m going to get her one of those pre-paid phones that you add minutes to, to keep in the car. If you can recommend a cheap phone please let me know. I had a, “trac phone” back in the day and I think they still sell those?
  • Set up auto deposit into my retirement account. Since I got promoted in April I’ve been meaning to increase my retirement contribution based on my *new* higher salary. Right now my deposits are based on my previous lower salary, which is still better than the (zip, nil, nada) I was contributing towards retirement when I had $30k of student debt.

Health Goals (good health is wealth!):

We all know that physical fitness and financial wellness are interconnected, so I’m trying to focus more on my physical health and wellness. Someone once told me you make serious changes to your lifestyle when you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. Well I’m not, “sick and tired”, but I’d like to be much more healthy and energetic :-)

Related side note, if you haven’t been by Shannon’s blog, Financially Blonde recently, you’ll definitely want to check out her new book, Train Your Way to Financial Fitness. It’s an honest and refreshing take on getting, “financially fit”. I personally have struggled withing being too, “extreme” in my diet and exercise in the past. Ditto for my personal finances.

Basically, I like to do things 110% and if I don’t feel like I’m succeeding immediately, I sometimes give up. I love that Shannon’s book helps you figure out where you stand and then helps you focus on finding the right balance between too, “skinny” and too, “fat” (financially speaking). It’s like having a financial counselor and supportive best friend all rolled into one (love that!). It’s the help you get you want (and need) to make your finances work for you.

  • Pack lunch for work everyday. For the past few weeks I’ve been making protein smoothies in the morning and bringing them to work in my insulated Klean Kanteen. It saves me money because I don’t buy take-out. It also keeps me from overeating and gives me a big vitamin boast. I’ve been using Nature’s Bounty chocolate protein mix (2 scoops) mixed with 1 cup of frozen berries or banana (or a combo of both) and 1 cup almond milk. I swear it tastes just like a chocolate milk shake, yum!
  • Exercise 25 minutes a day 5 times a week. I’m trying to be specific and measurable for this goal. In the past I’ve said I’m going to exercise “more” and let’s be honest, “more” doesn’t really mean anything. So this time I’m going to specify exactly what I mean. Those 25 minutes can be walking, jogging (or a combo of both) or doing a Focus T25 workout. I plan exercise longer each day and incorporate some strength and stretching, but I’d rather, “start small” and achievable then shoot for the stars and be disappointed.

Christmas Goals:

  • Finish knitting the, “Christmas sweaters”. I’m currently knitting two matching sweaters for my best friend’s twin girls due in January. I also need to start a cardigan for my sweet niece Clara (who has really gotten the short-end of the stick when it comes to hand knits from aunt KK-shame on me!).
  • Give $50 to my nephews and niece for their college funds. Each Christmas I give my sisters $50 for each of my nephews and my niece. It’s not a lot, but more importantly, it gives me the opportunity to tell my, “debt story” and teach my nephews and niece about saving and choosing a college they can afford. The eldest nephews are only 6, but it’s never too early to start teaching kids about money.
  • Send Christmas cards to friends and family. I already have the cards (I buy a few at a time when there are promo codes for free photo cards from the online photo sites). They don’t all match, but that doesn’t bother me in the least. Unless you’re family, you don’t see the cards I sent other people anyway.

Other Goals:

  • Finish the course I’m taking. I’m currently taking a SIFI (Seminar in Field Instruction) course. It’s a 12-week certification course for field instructors. This year I’m teaching an MSW student from Hunter College. It’s a big responsibility and something that I’m very excited about. My student is smart, engaging and ready to take on the world (it’s a good reminder why I got into the field and a nice way to continue to “stay fresh” and build my skills).
  • Write a handwritten letter to my grandmother weekly. We’ve noticed her memory loss for several years, but have just learned that she’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I think writing letters to her will be therapeutic for both of us. Her doctor said that card games, puzzles, crosswords etc. are good “mental exercise” so I assume letter writing would be the same.

Are you already thinking about the end of the year? What goals are you working on?

Image: lululemon athletica

Sep 24

Oops they did it again: 8 Tips for Buying a Used Car on a Budget

Not my parents' car

Not my parents’ car

This weekend my parents called me, “pleased as punch” (again!) with news that they purchased a (another) new car. If you remember from my previous post, my parents purchased another new car about 6 years ago. Previously my mom was driving a Saturn Vue. Per my step-dad, the Vue needed some pretty expensive maintenance and since Saturn dealers don’t exist anymore, so they decided to purchase another car.

They did their due diligence and decided on a Honda CRV. As I’ve mentioned before my folks are very frugal in almost all aspects of their of their lives. Cars are their one big, “splurge item” and when they buy a car, they want a new one.

I personally prefer to buy used cars and pay in cash (this is what my grandparents have always done and I admire them greatly for it). I certainly don’t fault my parents for buying a new car. There’s nothing wrong with buying a new car (or any other item for that matter), if you can afford it. Sadly, many people get suckered into financing cars they can’t afford. They don’t budget for an upcoming car purchase, and subsequently end up taking out large auto loans with exorbitant interest rates.

They sign on the dotted line and before they realize what’s going on, that, “affordable” monthly payment the salesman promised is now eating up half of their paycheck leaving them feeling overwhelmed and scared. Fortunately, buying a car doesn’t have to be synonymous with accruing debt.

Here are 8 simple tips, passed along from my grandparents, that Eric and I used to buy our (new to us) car on a budget.
  1. Pay cash:

    If you can’t afford to pay cash, seriously consider if you’re overextending yourself. Do you really want to spend $500 a month on a car payment? 2-3 years from now will you still be making the same money? If you plan on having kids will you need a bigger car? My best friend is currently paying a car payment on a car that will be too small for her family (2 kiddos and twins on the way!) in less than 9 months.

  2. Consider insurance and maintenance:

    Make sure you consider car insurance, maintenance, gas costs etc. before buying a car. Depending on your age and sex, and the make and model of the car, your insurance could be hundreds of dollars per month. Also consider the added expense of buying a luxury car. Servicing (at $100/hour and more) and premium gas can really add up.

  3. Be Realistic About Your Needs:

    Seriously consider the type of car that meets your needs. If you won’t be doing any, “off roading” in Atlanta you probably don’t need a 4-wheel drive SUV. Conversely, if you live in rural Maine where you’ll be driving in 12 inches of snow you might want to invest in that 4-wheel drive Subaru. If you live in Manhattan, that Escalade might look super fly on the lot, but just try and parallel that puppy into a spot on Bleecker Street!

  4. Do Your Homework:

    Talk to friends and family about their experiences with their cars. My family has always loved Hondas for their durability, good gas mileage and reliability. Consumer Reports is a good place to find out what makes and models are reliable and require little maintenance. You should also check Kelly Blue Book to find the going price for a used make/model of the car you’re interested in.

  5. Buy Used:

    Don’t let the dealer convince you that it’s too “risky” to buy a used car (yes parents I’m talking to you!). Forgo a huge depreciation in value and keep yourself out of debt by buying used. If you’re purchasing from a private seller have your mechanic check the car before you purchase it. He/she can tell you if the car you have your eye on has any problems that will end up costing you too much money.

  6. Save First, Buy Later:

    Don’t wait until your car dies to start thinking about saving for a new one. If you wait too long to start saving you risk putting yourself in a financial bind. I started saving for a replacement long before my 1993 teal Chevy Cavalier (RIP), overheated and left me stranded on the side of the highway. Thankfully, when she “died”, I didn’t need to finance a new car because I had been saving for a replacement for over a year.

  7. Make a Budget and Stick to it:

    If you have $1,000 to buy a car, don’t browse the pre-owned Mercedes lot. You wouldn’t look at a million dollar home when you have a $300,000 budget, would you? Don’t, “window shop” places you can’t afford. It’s easy to start dreaming about bigger and better, when you’ve seen the top of the line models.

  8. Ignore Appearance & “Extras”:

    Don’t rule out a reliable mini van because it’s unattractive to you. You’re more likely to score a good deal on the less desirable cars on the lot (think school bus yellow, manual windows etc.). Also keep in mind that, Extras = $$$. Remember what life was like before we had automatic door locks, heated seats, backup cameras and sun roofs? We still got around OK, right? I know I did. Bells and whistles are fun, but they aren’t necessary (to me at least).

Bottom line… a car can be a huge budget buster and a big emotional and financial burden if you don’t do proper due diligence. So save some cash in advance, do your homework and keep an open mind about the car’s “look” and features. You can buy a good car with a limited budget, without going into debt.

Image: David Guo

Sep 19

Why the debt snowball wasn’t for me

snowballIf you’re interested in personal finance you’re probably familiar with the, “debt snowball” method of debt repayment. Popularized by author and radio talk show host, Dave Ramsey, the debt snowball is a debt reduction method whereby you list your debts smallest to largest and pay them off aggressively, one at at time.

Example: Let’s say you owe 3 debts. A $1000 debt with a $100 minimum payment, a $10,000 debt with a $300 minimum payment and a $15,000 with a $450 minimum payment. Once you start the snowball, you pay the minimum payments on each of the debts each month ($100+$300+$450) then throw whatever extra money you have on the smallest debt. So in this example, you’d pay $100 a month for the next 10 months (or less), until the smallest debt is paid in full.

Once your smallest debt is gone, you “roll” the minimum payment you were paying on the first debt ($100) into the minimum amount you pay on the second debt ($300), for a total of $400 payed each month until the second debt is paid in full. Get it? The snowball is rolling downhill and you’re benefiting from it’s momentum! Rinse and repeat, on the 3rd, and biggest debt, until all of your debts are gone!

The theory behind why the snowball works is simple. After you pay off your first, “little” debt, you’re totally stoked and proud of yourself. So proud, you want to do it again (and again) until you’re debt-free! While I didn’t follow the snowball plan, I understand why it would be very motivating.

If the debt snowball is so, “great”, why didn’t I use it?

  1. I wanted to pay the loans with the biggest interest rates first. Basically, I’m pessimistic a realist and I wanted to make sure if I lost my job or had an emergency, my loans with the highest interest rates were paid first.
  2. The debt snowball would have cost me more money. I planned to pay off my $30,000 student loan debt in less than 3 years, and actually paid it off (once I really buckled down and got serious) in less than 2 years. In my case, using the debt snowball method wouldn’t have been any faster and I would have paid slightly more in interest since my, “biggest debt” had a 6.8% interest rate and my smallest had a 3.25% interest rate.
  3. I didn’t, “need” the psychological boast of paying off the small loans. I’m pretty good at motivating myself so I made a poster board “thermometer” documenting my debt payoff. Each time I paid off $100 I colored in a part of the thermometer. I think it was just as motivating as paying off my smallest debt first as part of the debt snowball.
  4. My debts were similar sizes. I didn’t have a really small debt, so my first, debt payoff “victory” would have been very delayed. Not exactly that instant motivation and gratification that gets you excited about debt pay down.
  5. A $1000 emergency fund wasn’t enough for me. Dave Ramsey encourages readers to have a $1000 emergency fund while they are, “debt snowballing” their debt. $1000 felt too small for me, so I saved more. It took me a little longer to pay off my debt because I had to build up an emergency fund first, but in the long run that’s what made me feel comfortable.

Don’t get me wrong, I listen to the Dave Ramsey show podcast regularly and appreciate Dave’s, “no nonsense” approach to personal finance. His, “baby steps” help people change their money and their lives. So if the debt snowball works for you, you should use it! It doesn’t matter how you chose to kick your debt to the curb, as long as you stay dedicated and motivated and work “your plan”, whatever it may be.

Did you/are you, “snowballing” your debt? Why or why not?

 

Image: Kamyar Adl

Sep 15

9 Ways Being a Homebody Saves Me Money

ecardEveryday at work, we have a meeting first thing in the morning called, “rounds.” Rounds is where the managers talk about client and staffing issues and any trainings that are taking place during the day. This past Friday, during the unofficial, “tell me your weekend plans” part of the meeting ;-) one of my co-workers asked me what I was doing over the weekend.

When I responded, “probably just cleaning the house and relaxing.”

She remarked, “I guess you’re just a homebody, aren’t you?”

The comment sort of took me aback for a minute. First, I felt a little bit insulted like, “what’s that supposed to mean?” you think I don’t have a life? Then I felt annoyed, like, “it’s none of your business what I do on the weekend!” And then I felt like I had to “defend” myself, by explaining all of the “fabulous” plans that I hadn’t told her about…”Well we were planning on taking out the schooner, but since it’s supposed to rain we’ll probably just go to a Broadway show and then stop by Momofuku Ko for dinner and drinks.”

Ultimately, I just smiled and said that I enjoy simple pleasures, like spending time with my boyfriend and our pets, catching up on housework and having a few drinks with friends. She agreed that sometimes she likes to do the same and the conversation ended as quickly as it began.

But it obviously, “stuck” with me because I’m still analyzing it today. Maybe I’m over sensitive or maybe I’m a little neurotic (or maybe both), but I feel like there’s definitely a stigma associated with being a homebody, especially in NYC.

There’s almost some sort of unwritten rule that you’re, “broke” or “boring”, if you don’t have some sort of exciting plans for the weekend. Even if it’s dinner out or drinks with friends, you have to have something to say to co-workers when you get back to work on Monday morning.

9 ways being a homebody (on the weekend) saves me money:

  1. Staying at home is free. There’s no cover charge or admission.
  2. I don’t have to wear, “work clothes” or nice sweaters that need to be dry cleaned. I can rock the same PJs all weekend and nobody cares.
  3. I don’t get overcharged for booze. There’s no markup on the beer in my fridge.
  4. Who needs an improv show when you have pets? I swear they totally crack me up on a daily basis.
  5. Christmas is coming and gifts are expensive. Staying at home means lots of time to work on homemade gifts. Sweaters for my nephews and niece don’t knit themselves…
  6. Why go to the movies when you enjoy movies and TV in the comfort of your living room? Eric pays a lot of money for cable. Someone has to make use of On Demand episodes of Dance moms!
  7. The maid (me) only works on weekends. If I didn’t take time to clean on the weekends I’d probably have to hire a maid because when I get home weeknights I’m way to tired to do anything except eat and go to bed.
  8. Weekends are the best time to prep food for the week. Cooking on Sunday and bringing my lunch to work saves me at least $50 a week!
  9. I know what my friends do on the weekends and it’s pretty similar to what I do. So I’m don’t feel like I’m, “missing out” on anything. When I want to get together with friends I invite them over and we both save money by staying in.

What’s best about being a homebody? When I want to go out and do something fun, I have the money to do it because I didn’t blow all my money trying to impress my co-workers with, extravagant plans every weekend!

Are you a homebody? Do you think there’s negative stigma with being a homebody? What does a “normal” weekend look like at your house?

Image: Ian Burt

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