July 2012 Online Earnings Report

It’s no secret that blogging and niche websites are an excellent way to generate extra cash. We’ve decided to publish a monthly report listing the amounts we make from our online money making efforts. If this value ever tops $1,000 a month, we’ll probably take it underground. But for now, it’s ‘public information’ here on LiveWellSimply.com.

So, without further elaboration, here’s our Online Earnings Report from July 2012:

  • Amazon Affiliate Links:  $18.16
  • Big G Affiliate Ads: $49.82

GRAND TOTAL: $67.98

As you can see, we aren’t into blogging to get rich. It’s a great hobby where we exercise our writing skills, hopefully help a few people out, and generate a little side cash along the way.  We are also in the process of exploring additional revenue streams that include the eBay Partner Network, Commission Junction Affiliates, and the ClickBank referral program.

Since several of our regular readers are also bloggers, what recommendations can you make for monetizing a blog or website. And another question, is it in some way a ‘sell-out’ to the world of commerce and marketing to put ads on a blog that advocates ‘simple living’? Sound off in the comments below. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Posted in Blogging | 4 Comments

Weekend Reading #9

It’s been a very busy week in my ‘offline’ life. Between my day job and my offline small business, I’ve been putting in some serious hours. Another development happening ‘as we speak’, is the purchase of our first home. I am writing a series of articles documenting our experience which I hope to publish soon. But, for today, I’ll just link to some of our favorite articles from around the Personal Finance and Simple Living blogosphere. 🙂

Articles about making money are always a perennial favorite. 20’s Finances writes about 5 Ways Anyone Can Make Money.

Daisy from the Lemon Blog, (ya I know, it goes by another name, but I don’t want the folks that visit this blog to get their family filters all tied up in knots), writes about her Out of Control Transportation Costs. The government of the province of British Columbia Canada, owns the only insurance company in the province. Monopoly? You bet!

Bible Money Matters published an article on helping you match your finances with your priorities. Or is it the other way around?

I Am 1 Percent shares their advice and personal experiences on the topic of tithing.

It’s the rare salesman that can convince me to buy something, but here are 4 Sales Tactics to watch out for listed by Man vs Debt.

Modest Money writes about Ways to Save on Moving Costs. I’m sure these will come in handy soon for us.

Prairie Eco-Thrifter lists 7 Ways to Save at the Restaurant.

The Frugal Toad talks about keeping the peace financially in a family.

One Cent at a Time mentions the dangers of going without home insurance. I wouldn’t dream of it!

 

Have a great weekend folks! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m running over to Amazon to get their ONE DAY ONLY half price USB thumb drives. 32 GB for $17.99 and 64GB for just over $30! Can’t beat that price.

 

 

Posted in Link Round-up | 25 Comments

Pennsylvania Homestead Tax Relief – How to Reduce Your Property Tax in PA

Yesterday evening, my wife and I were enjoying an ‘international food’ night with good friends of ours. If you’ve never tried Rice balls and groundnut soup from Ghana, you’re missing out! During the course of the evening, my friend was telling me how he was able to cut his annual property tax bill almost by half using the little known Taxpayer Relief Act created on June 27, 2006. As a soon-to-be home owner, I was intrigued. So, he showed me some of the paperwork involved and when I got home, I dug a little deeper to find out how to get this savings. Here are all the details I found in my research all laid out for anyone else looking to save some coin on those ever increasing property taxes.

What is the Pennsylvania Homestead Tax Relief Act?

According to the PA Department of Education’s website, the Taxpayer Relief Act, Act 1 of Special Session 1 of 2006 was created to provide “property tax reduction allocations, to be distributed by the Commonwealth to each school district”. Basically, your property’s assessed value is reduced through this Act, and since property tax is based on assessed value, the tax is also reduced.

Are You Eligible?

In order to be eligible for the Pennsylvania Homestead Tax Relief Act, you need to have your primary residence at the ‘homestead’ or ‘farmstead’ for which you are applying. So, rental properties are obviously ineligible. Also, for some reason, Philadelphia county has chosen to reduce the wage tax instead of property tax, so if you’re from ‘Philly’ you are also ineligible. All other counties in Pennsylvania qualify.

How to Apply for the Pennsylvania Homestead Tax Relief

  1. Make sure you qualify for the reduction.
  2. Contact your county assessment office (excel spreadsheet of all PA county assessment offices) for a copy of the homestead and farmstead application form for your local school district.
  3. Once you get the form, fill it out and send it in to your county assessment office before the March 1st deadline.

 

Further Reading:

This article is for information purposes only. You should check the official sources listed below for the latest developments and changes to the PA Homestead Tax Relief Act. Also, if you don’t live in PA, you may be eligible for a similar reduction in property taxes. Many states have programs that reduce property taxes based on income level and/or whether you are a resident of the property.

  • http://www.newpa.com/get-local-gov-support/tax-information/property-tax-relief-through-homestead-exclusion/
  • http://www.education.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/property_tax_relief/7452

 

 

Posted in Finance, Home & Family, Save Money | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Kicked Out! – The Facebook Game that Teaches Financial Skills

In recent web browsing, I ran across an interesting looking game, built for the Facebook platform, called Kicked Out! It is still in development over at kickstarter, but they’ve got a long way to go toward their $300,000 seed money goal. Here’s a video created by the Eurozone based game developers (the accent gives them away). What do you think? Would you encourage kids and young adults to play this game? Would you play it yourself, to learn financial skills minus the real-life risks?

Posted in Education, Finance, Home & Family | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Why Do You Live Simply?

Facebook can be a rather amusing medium for communicating, sometimes. About 80% of what is posted is meaningless to me. However, every once in awhile, a quote or infographic is posted that gets me thinking. This is one of them.

 

LIVE SIMPLY, SO OTHERS CAN SIMPLY LIVE

The obvious message here is that the more we live simply, the more surplus we will have to contribute toward improving the quality of life for the world’s poorest.

 

Why Do YOU Live Simply?

Posted in Mind Musings, Quotes | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Get Out of Debt – 10 Creative Ways

Debt is the master and you its slave. Perhaps that is an oversimplification, but most types of debt can quickly gain a stranglehold on the hapless consumer. I’ve somehow managed to avoid debt so far, so I don’t have the same level of empathy as someone who has successfully bounced ‘back from the debt’ (tongue in cheek). However, I have watched others make the journey from debt to surplus savings successfully, so I have an idea of what works and what doesn’t. Also, the same principals that apply to debt deliverance are how I’ve successfully saved for the major expenses I’ve faced in life. With that little bit of introduction and caveat regarding my non-experience with debt, here are 10 creative ways to learn how to get out of debt, and stay out.

How to Get Out of Debt

 

1.  Shred Those Credit Cards

One of the most vicious kinds of debt is consumer credit card debt. Credit cards are a useful way to build credit, but if you have a history of not being able to pay off your credit cards every month, just get rid of them completely. The interest rates on credit cards are off the charts and definitely not worth paying.  Make paying off your cards the first priority on your journey to a debt free life.

 

2.  Read or Listen to Books on Personal Finance

Whatever you focus on in life becomes part of who you are. Reading books on personal finance and debt elimination will help you achieve your financial goals. But be careful, not all books offer the best advice. Here are a few I would personally recommend:

  • Your Money or Your Life   –  A classic book that really gets down to the whole reason you should stay out of debt in the first place, live within your means and spend your life doing something other than working like a slave to stay out of bankruptcy.
  • Total Money Makeover  –  Excellent book by personal finance guru Dave Ramsey. There are excellent financial tools and ideas in this book that you’ll refer to again and again throughout your life.
  • Financial Peace University CD Set  –  Commuting to your second job as you pay down that debt load, leaving no time to read? No problem. Get this excellent CD set for less than the price of a tank of gas and you’ll find Financial Peace in no time. Here’s a frugal tip: get it used for half the cost of new and put the money you saved towards paying off your debt

 

3.  Live Frugally

This one is a given and pretty simple once you get the hang of it. Look at every expense and find a way to dial it down. Start with the big ones first. High rent? Downsize. You’d be surprised how easily you can fit in an 800 square foot house once you get rid of everything that you don’t need. Making payments on a car? Sell it and get a 10 year old Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla. Paying for cable? Drop it completely. Cable television seems to have more ads than content these days anyway, making you want to spend your hard earned money on stuff you don’t need. That’s just a start. Make it as unique as your situation in life. Live simply and start saving.

 

4.  Make Extra Money

Think about how you can add to your bottom line. Whether its negotiating a raise at your current job, working a second job or starting a part time side gig, find a way to make some extra cash to put directly towards paying off your debt. Read the article I wrote recently, 10 Creative Ways to Make Money to get some ideas.

 

5.  Just Say ‘No’ to Borrowing

Many people get started in the debt trap by borrowing money for common big ticket items like a refrigerator or new couch. Marketers have some pretty enticing deals to snare people with. Just think, you could have a new living room furniture set with zero down and no interest for 12 months! But eventually, you’ll have to pay and by then you might be in even tighter financial circumstances than today. Another thing, if you pay cash for any big ticket item, the price is ALWAYS negotiable, meaning you’ll save a bundle if you pay up front.

 

6.  Create a Balance Sheet

Every business has what is called a ‘profit and loss’ statement or P & L. Like every smart business, each month, take inventory of what came in and what went out. Armed with this information, you’ll be able to create a budget that you can reasonably stick to and find out any areas of ‘waste’ that you can eliminate. Over time, those negative numbers will turn to positive numbers. Going from red to black will bring a sense of incredible freedom to you.

 

7.  Graph Your Net Worth

Using a free tool like Mint.com, you can aggregate all your financial account information in one place and see a graph over time of your net worth. This will be an encouragement in the daily grind of hard work and sacrifice it will take to climb out of the debt hole.

 

8.  Pick Frugal Friends

If you find yourself in a social circle that parties hard every weekend or enjoys going out for expensive dinners together, you might need some new friends. Find friends that will encourage you in your race to debt free living and whose financial habits more closely mirror your own. This will help you avoid the social pressure of ‘keeping up with the Jones-es’ so to speak.

 

9.  Stay Focused and Enjoy Simple Rewards

If you’ve been accruing consumer debt for several years, face the fact that you probably won’t be out of debt in three months. Get focused on the long haul, and reward yourself (in frugal or non-monetary ways if possible) for each milestone along the way. Example: for every $1,000 you pay off on your credit card debt, reward yourself with a relaxing picnic in the park or a refreshing home-made fruit smoothie as you read a chapter from one of the books mentioned in #2.

 

10. Once You Achieve Your Debt Free Goal, Start Saving

Saving for a rainy day used to be a common practice for most people. The credit card ‘eliminated’ that practice, but its good to get back into the habit. Set aside 3-6 months worth of income in an ’emergency fund’ that you can use to pay for life’s unexpected expenses.

 

For the readers: have you successfully gone from debt to surplus? What other ways can someone who is in debt climb out and experience the joy of debt-free living?

Posted in Finance, Lists of Ten, Save Money | 208 Comments

Outdoors Crafts for Kids

Summer is the perfect time to get outdoors with your children; enjoy nature and do messy craft activities you might not otherwise allow in the home. There are so many things you can do from your backyard; many of which don’t cost a single penny. The results of these planned activities, can be displayed and enjoyed in your home for months afterward.

Here are five of the best outdoor crafts for you and your family to enjoy this summer:

1.  Rock Painting
Either find pretty pebbles in your yard, or collect a few during your next visit to the beach.  Then get out the paints and allow your children to decorate them anyway they wish. From little rainbow hand-prints, to writing their name in bright colors, let them paint to their hearts content.

Once the paints are dry, spray them with a clear varnish to preserve the moment indefinitely.  You could even add a date to the back of the stone if there is any space left to write.

2. Grow a Family Tree

You will need a large sheet of paper for this one.

Roughly sketch out the trunk of a tree onto the paper, with a few smaller branches at the top. Then get your kids to decorate it – they could use paint, scrunched up brown tissue paper, brown leaves and twigs from the garden, or even actual mud!

Next, you all need to draw around the outline of your hands, cut them out, and decorate them green – these are going to be the leaves of your tree, which can be stuck on to the trunk once dry.  Add a new ‘leaf’ for each member of your family, as they visit, until the tree is in full bloom

3.  Bird Cake

To make these easy bird feeders, you will need the following:

  1. bird seed
  2. raisins
  3. peanuts
  4. grated cheese
  5. solid cooking fat
  6. yoghurt containers
  7. string
  8. mixing bowl
  9. scissors

Carefully make a small hole in the bottom of a yoghurt container. Thread string through the hole and tie a knot on the inside.  Leave enough string so you can tie the container to a tree or bird table.

Allow the cooking fat to warm to room temperature, cut into small pieces and put into a mixing bowl.

Add all the other remaining ingredients to the bowl and squash them together with your hands – your kids will LOVE this part!  Keep going until it all holds together.

Fill the pots with the mixture and leave to harden in the fridge for an hour or so.

Hang your bird cakes then stand somewhere discreet to watch them enjoy their feast.  Keep a journal of the birds that visit.

4.  Chalking

If your kids love making a mess, but don’t like to clean up afterwards, this could be the perfect activity for them.

Purchase some cheap colored chalk and let your children decorate every inch of your garden – from fences, to patios and walls.  The results will be so fun and colorful and will keep your children busy for hours.  The rain (or a good sprinkling with a hosepipe) will wash it all away afterwards, leaving a blank canvas for next time.

5.  Search for Natural Dyes

Believe it or not, natural dyes can be found right in your backyard! Before there were chemical dyes, people had to make their own using plant materials. Roots, nuts and flowers are common sources for making beautiful, natural colors.

Remember; never gather more than 2-3 strands of something if collecting in the wild.

Once you have collected your plant materials, finely chop or crush them, and soak overnight in a glass bowl with just enough water to cover them.

The next day, pour the contents into a stainless steel pan and bring to a boil, then simmer gently for about an hour.  Check it frequently and add more water if needed.

Strain through a sieve to remove the plant material, allow the liquid to cool, and you have dye!

If dying material, you can add alum to help the dye set.  For every quart of dye, add about one tablespoon of alum.  Add your chosen fabric to the dye, then simmer gently until the material has gone slightly darker than you want, it will lighten once dry.

This article was written by Kathryn Thompson.  Kathryn is an experienced blogger and mom to three daughters.  Kathryn enjoys spending time outdoors crafting with her family, and enjoying the simple things in life.

Posted in Home & Family, Save Money | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 32 Comments

How Much Does it Cost to Get Married?

Every enterprising young man who is considering popping the BIG question to his girlfriend has probably asked himself another question as well: “how much does it cost to get married?” We are talking here about the costs a young man is usually responsible for. So, this doesn’t include the cost of the wedding day itself (except for the honeymoon suite of course). That cost (averaging $29,000) is traditionally paid for by the parents of the bride. So, for the young man thinking of marriage, how much does it cost to get married? More than you might think!

A friend of mine recently started a relationship, which if all goes as planned, will probably lead to the marriage altar. Since I recently got married he asked me frankly, friend-to-friend, how much I figured he’d need to get married, zip away on a lovely honeymoon and come back to a fully furnished, comfortable home for his bride. I gave him a pretty easy figure: $50,000.

How Much Does it Cost to Get Married? $50k

If you are a young man considering marriage, you can stop reading this article, go back to work and start piling away those savings! Or you can continue reading and find out how I arrived at this figure.

I tend to be extremely debt averse, which is apparently unusual for Americans. My goal was to marry completely debt free. Mission accomplished. The only debt I hope to ever incur in the future, is a mortgage. Mortgages are a ‘useful’ sort of debt and have their benefits, but we’ll save those details for another post. Needless to say, when I was considering the idea of getting married (before I ever started a relationship) I did some itemizing and calculating to come to the $50k figure. Here they are.

 

One Time Costs (aka non-budget items)

  • Furniture / Appliances  –  $15,000
  • Engagement / Wedding Ring  –  $4,000
  • Honeymoon  –  $4,000
  • Home Goods (pillows, sheets, curtains and other items for setting up a house)  –  $2,500
  • Kitchen Equipment (non appliance)  –  $2,500
  • Emergency Fund (3-6 month’s expenses) $10,000
  • Total One Time Costs = $38,000

 

 cost-of-getting-married-starting-outRecurring Costs (aka budget items)

  • Starter home rental $800-1,000/month ($800 + first and last month’s deposit = $2,400 up front)
  • Food & household $600/month
  • Communications (phones,internet) $150/month
  • Transportation (1 car) $300/month
  • Utilities & Services (heat,cooling,water,trash,etc) $300/month
  • Clothing & Personal Products $300/month
  • ‘Fun Money’  $200/month
  • Healthcare and Pharmacy – $400/month
  • Savings  –  $300/month (varies based on usage of other budget categories)
  • Total = $11,650 in the first 3 months of marriage

 

GRAND TOTAL = $49,650   (about $50k give or take a few thousand)

 

Of course, this is only a rough sketch of what it might cost a couple just beginning their first 3 months of married life. I left out a lot of finer details. But, it makes a good starting point for anyone considering what it might cost to get married and start a home together.

What do you think? Is $50k too conservative, or more than enough? Couples, what was your newlywed financial experience like? Did I miss any big ticket items? Sound off in the comments below.

Posted in Finance, Home & Family | 119 Comments

How to Have Fun for Free

Some of us are still feeling the pinch of a lingering recession, with 2012 proving to be a financially challenging year. This is a good reason to think of creative ways to make our money stretch a little further each month.

The good news is there is a multitude of fun, free activities for you to enjoy this summer.

Here are ten of the best:

1.  Make a camp in the garden

Your kids will love this. It’s just like taking a holiday, but you get to use your own bathroom!  Put up your family tent (if it fits in your garden) and set up the camp stove to make proper camp food – anything with sausages!

Older kids might be trustworthy enough to sleep in it alone, and you could allow them to invite some friends for a sleepover. Not only will they love this slice of independence, you wont hear them giggling at 2am!

Younger kids will enjoy sleeping out there with you. Join your sleeping bags together and tell each other funny stories to make it a night to remember.

2.  Mug up on your art

Most art galleries offer free tours and workshops on particular days. Or you could visit an auction house, the majority of which offer free entry to pre-auction exhibits.  There is usually a wide variety of featured artwork on show, from graffiti to fine art.

3.  Swap your old books

If you have shelves full of books that you’ve already read (or given up on) now might be a good time to swap them for someone else’s collection.

There are several websites that allow you to do just this, such as paperback swap, where you can list your books, send them off, and then search for new books to spend your credit on. You can also sell your books on Amazon and use the proceeds to buy others you’ve been hankering to read.

4.  House Sitting/Home Swap

How do you fancy taking a break for free?  House sitting may not pay well, but in return for free accommodation and a tax-free food allowance, you must agree to feed pets, water plants and agree to not leave the house for more than a few hours at a time.

House swaps offer you the chance to swap homes with people in far-flung locations.

5.  Review a new restaurant

Mystery shopping is now a $1.6 billion dollar industry, focused on improving the customer service offered by retail outlets, restaurants and service providers.

During an assignment you should expect to be asked to eat anywhere, from fine dining restaurants to fast food outlets, for a set budget of somewhere between $10-$90.

6.  Sign up with a reward and cash-back site

To use a rewards site, you simply click through the company you plan to purchase from via a reward cash back site, and you get paid for doing so.

There are several reward sites offering this service, including Ebates, Fat Wallet, and Rewardit. You have to become a member to take advantage, but once signed up, you simply log in, find the retailer of your choice, and click the link on the cash back site in order to be directed to that retailer.

Once you have bought something, you earn cash back with Rewardit for example, which you can withdraw from your cash-back account as soon as you have reached a specified target.

7.  Make a meal of weeds

This may not be for the faint of heart. However, foraging for food can be fun and free, and opens culinary doors you might not have tried otherwise.  Rosehip can be made into a delicious syrup or tea and contain as much vitamin C as an orange.  Dandelions can be used in salads or the leaves sautéed as an unusual side dish.

8.  Theme a Week

Pick a theme and dedicate an entire week to it.  This summer my family and I are planning an ‘Olympic week’ during which we will be hosting our own Olympic games (sack race, relays, shot-put), going to the library to research Olympic history, making our own sporty outfits, and eating different foods from around the world.

The choices are endless and your family will have bundles of fun as well as learning along the way.

9.  Get a free haircut

If you’re not quite brave enough for a DIY haircut, trainee hairdressers and barbers need to practice their fledgling skills on someone, and that someone could be you!  Hairdressing academies give people the chance to get their hair cut and styled for free, under the watchful eye of an experienced professional, of course. Your mileage may vary.

It may take a little longer, but you’re not paying for the privilege, so you may as well put on your iPod, and enjoy it!

10.  Take a dog for a walk

Owning a dog takes time, money, space and a great deal of responsibility.  But, the rewards are priceless – dog owners are reportedly happier and healthier than us canine deficient individuals.

If you like the idea of dog walking but without the stress, why not advertise your dog walking services in local stores or papers.

 

Editors Note: This article was written by Kathryn Thompson.  Kathryn is an experienced blogger and mom to three daughters aged 12, 10 and 5.  Kathryn enjoys earning while she spends using Rewardit – the cashback and reward site.

Posted in Home & Family, Lists of Ten, Save Money, Simplify | 1 Comment

Weekend Reading #8

It’s been an incredibly busy and might I add, WARM week here on the East Coast. Mimi and I took a mini vacation visiting family and were we ever thankful for air-conditioning in my sister’s car! Another thing that is synonymous with summer weather and travel is construction! I lost count of the construction zones we drove through. It’s good to see our road systems are being taken care of.

Now, on to some of our favorite articles from the blogosphere this past week:

That’s all for now. Get out there and enjoy your weekend folks!

Posted in Link Round-up | 2 Comments