Crowdsourcing to Save Money

Unless you are a trust fund baby, independently wealthy or some sort of entertainment or banking star you probably have wondered at some point in time (maybe within the past few minutes even), how you can possibly save enough money. We are told inflation is tame, that it is ok to spend and everything will be alright, but in the meantime it seems we have less money every month.

As the saying goes, two heads are better than one so why not 25 heads? Some of the top personal finance bloggers have come together to crowdsource ways to save more money and here they are for your saving pleasure: Crowdsourcing works, if you’re willing to listen to the answers.

1. Steve from Money Infant – My favorite way to save more money is by making more money. Keep your expenses stable and don’t become a victim of lifestyle creep and every extra dollar you make is another dollar saved. Plus it is fun and exciting and the potential to increase your savings is theoretically unlimited. The saying spend less than you earn doesn’t always mean you have to spend less, it can also mean you need to earn more.

2. Emily from Million Ways to Save – My favorite way to save more money is to be mindful of saving money. By taking those first steps toward mindfulness and your money, you can thwart the personal demons of loss of self control and bad spending. Saving money is all about keeping a little more in your pocket, rather than having personal financial regret.

I’m sending this on to Haru over at I’m Bleeding Money. He’s got plenty of money saving tips up his sleeve! 🙂

Crowdsourcing Blog Chain Posts

So, I’ve been thinking about blogging, traffic generation, and crowdsourcing. I’ve got some great ideas from Ana over at Traffic Generation Cafe (It’s one of the very few blogs that I can stand about traffic generation) and she sent out the idea that you network and ask to be on other people’s blogrolls. It’s a good theory, and it’s highly effective because it raises your exposure as being a trusted member of the community. I was rolling this idea around in my head when I got a letter from African royalty informing me that she was willing to share her $9.4MM dollars with me for just the price of my bank information.

And the idea struck me, something that I’d not heard of folks doing.

The Blog ‘Chain Letter’ Post

I know what you’re thinking. If you’re old enough, you might be thinking about the physical paper chain letters which demand that you put a dollar into fifteen envelopes and send them back to the people on the list or something bad happens. Younger people will think of the digital chain letters which exercise the same sort of tactics – if you send this meme out, you’ll be blessed, if you don’t send it out, people will hate you. That tactic is crazy and manipulative.

No, this is something different.

There are guest posts, blog carnivals, and blog roundups where the best posts of the week are highlighted in other people’s blogs. This develops backlinks for the blogs in question, as well as having the potential of going viral and getting seen by one of the larger blogs (I had this happen to one of my posts, the traffic was *amazing*) . What if something like this were done intentionally, so that everyone who participated benefited from the activity?

This is something like a meme, but done with a blog in a slightly more controlled atmosphere. One person starts a topic of suggestions/hints/etc like ways to save money. Everyone within the PF blogger community has posted something like this at one point or another, and there’s plenty of material to work with.

At the end of the post, that blogger would ‘tag’ another blogger. That blogger would post the original part as well as adding to the content with just one more tip/piece of advice/suggestion. Not the whole post, just a single tip. At the end of that post, they would ‘tag’ someone else with the responsibility of posting that particular post, complete with the links from the other two, and put their own on there, repeating the process until an arbitrary number (let’s say 25) of tips and suggestions was reached.

At the end, the person would get to ‘keep’ the post, leaving that list of 25 crowdsourced tips and suggestions on the site, and the process would start over once more at another blog. There are no penalties like evils happening to your family, this is just something fun to do. To make a more ethical atmosphere, instead of ‘malicious’ tagging, we could actually get permission from the possible next one on the chain.

No bad things would happen, and the early adopters would get multiple backlinks to multiple blogs. The later ones in the chain would gain a little bit of authority in the process, as well, making it one of those ultra win situations.

What about duplicate content?

Content is truly king. Google talks about duplicate content here. There would be some duplicate content, but since there is also something new being added to the conversation, it wouldn’t be aggregious and the process itself would actually be fun.

Doesn’t this already happen?

Somewhat. But it’s not intentional. People post great stuff all the time, and other people take it to their own blogs to comment on it, but that’s generally where it stays. It’s only one link in the chain. Other people get the opportunity to see it on other sites, but there’s no tagging like a meme occurring. And, it would be entirely consensual – one of the problems that I have with getting tagged in someone else’s meme is that I’m obligated to do stuff that I didn’t really want to do. With the opt-in philosophy, it’s like your’e being asked to do a one paragraph guest post that requires very little *actual* work.

How hard is this?

Not very. The responsibility of the starting person would be to write the introduction and the first tip. The rest just add to it. As writers, we’re writing things every single day, and something like this would only take a few minutes of your time. This is more intended to be fun, something which develops links and a little bit of authority.

Here’s a sample post:
Saving money is the mantra of some, the bane of others, but there are a lot of people who want to do it within their everyday lives. A little bit of scratch in your pocket is always good to have. Here are some crowdsourced tips on ways to save money:

1. Emily from Million Ways to Save
Make a List

Making a list beforehand is very important when you go shopping. If you stick with the list, you will prevent yourself from making those impulse purchases which can be detrimental to your budget. Take a few moments before you go to the store to make a list of the things that you need, and watch your money stay with you!

I’m sending this letter on to X of X blog. He’ll have some awesome tips for you!

And then X from X blog would remove the final paragraph, and put in something like 2. X from Xbloglink — Buy scratch and Dent… or something, then sends it on. None of this is very hard at all!

Chain letters don’t have to be malicious or mean, they don’t have to obligate someone to things which they don’t want to do. There doesn’t need to be money involved, and the whole process can be completely deliberate. Starting a chain letter might even develop some well deserved traffic, and more.

UPDATE – You’re more than welcome to include me in any of the blog chain letters that you might start. 🙂 I don’t have any of those new-fangled detection devices, but I wanna know so I can take it and pass it on. Pingbacks to specific posts, Twitter mentions, and email ( pull me out of my reverie.

Photo courtesy of Paul Simpson on Flickr.

What do you think? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

How We Saved $600

After writing about The Best $500 I Ever Lost, I wanted to give you a success story.

The Unlikely Mage and I had been battling with our clothes washer for weeks. It was pooling water on the floor, not draining properly, and otherwise being a nuisance. Our emergency fund had taken a few hits, and it would be several months before there would be any kind of money available for having a professional fix it. Neither of us particularly enjoyed the prospect of taking our clothes to the laundromat (I’m not even sure where it is, actually), so we were weighing our options.

1. Go to the laundomat

This can cost up to $20 each time, not including the costs of detergent, travel, and time taken out of the day (not to mention having to find something to wear to go to the laundromat). Despite the comparatively low cost each time, those once a week trips add up in the budget and are highly inconvenient.

2. Get a New Washer

The washer and dryer are stacked, wedged perfectly into their space. If we were to get another washer, we would more than likely have to get another dryer as well. New setups can cost $600 on the low end, not including the delivery costs and other necessary accoutrements. It’s a serious hassle to get new things, sometimes.

3. Pick up a Used Washer and Dryer

The same concerns apply to this one as they did for picking up the new washer and dryer. The price would be less, but there would still be the matter of delivery and making it actually work within the tiny space that we had available. Used appliances are sometimes flaky and need research. Unfortunately, as far as I know, there’s no ‘washerfax’ like Carfax.

4. Wash Clothes By Hand

The jury’s still out on whether this is indeed cost effective. I’m prone to believe that it isn’t, because the dryer has to work harder to get the moisture out of the wrung but not spun clothing. The average bathtub can hold 42 gallons of water, and the average washer uses around 20. Besides, hand washing my clothing with a wringer and a LOT of elbow grease was not how I wanted to spend a Sunday.

5. Hire Someone to Fix It

Although we are not averse to hiring people to repair our stuff, we are leery of the costs which are involved. Between the two of us, we have very few friends who were likely not to fix it themselves and call one of the professionals. I assumed that the problem would take at least $100,, and that money could be spent more effectively somewhere else.

6. Trade Favors

We have friends who are rather handy, but getting them to come to our neck of the woods would have costed around $50. There would be gas, and feeding them, and the fact that we would be calling in favors. This particular crisis didn’t seem to be worthy of that type of attention.

7. Fix it Ourselves

This is where the rubber meets the road. Use all of the resources on the internet to discover the source of the problem, and eventually fix the problem. The best option, by far, as it required only a time investment, and the temptation of learning a new and improved skill. We ultimately chose this option.

Fixing the washer proved to be less hassle than originally planned. It took almost an hour to diagnose the problem of clogged hoses, clean out the lines, drain the lines and reattached. There were a couple of test runs made, and the washer was once again doing all of its washery things.

Ultimately, doing the research and doing it ourselves (actually, TUM did it) saved us $600 or more for an hour’s worth of work. This was absolutely incredible, and it came out of the necessity of being low on funds. You can save a ton of cash if you’re willing to do some research and experiment. We did!

The Best $500 I Ever Lost

I love the stock market. I enjoy how people are able to make money on it, trade shares of companies, make fortunes and more. I’ve made a serious run at playing the market twice, and both times I lost. I’d like to talk about the second time that I tried (the first being a gradual bleeding of money, and not very interesting).

Like I said, I love the stock market, but I haven’t developed great strategies to make money. It’s something that I’ll likely try again when I have money, but I know that it’s like ‘crack’ to me, highly addictive and detrimental. Right now, my primary investment is with Prosper, and it’s going to stay that way for a while.

The Story

Last year, I cleared out my 401K. I desparately needed the money, as my freelance writing business wasn’t taking off. I wanted liquid funds to tide me over until I could figure out the ‘thing’ that I was missing (that ‘thing’ was seriousness, and I’m going to write more about that later). The total amount that I withdrew was $8K.

Of that $8K, much of it went to pay off lingering student loans and a car. A small amount went to daily living expenses. The logic was that if I had fewer bills to pay each month, I would save a whole lot of money in the long run in interest charges and more. I’d set aside $3K to play with on the stock market.

The plan was simple. Look for a stock which had a regular ‘sine wave’ pattern in its ups and downs. There was no need to pay attention to the other stuff, because the stock would be regular, right? I was excited, because I had several candidates – all of which were going to make me something. So, I took the $3K and put it into ENER. It was the steadiest of all, ranging between $4.50 and $5 a share, like clockwork.

In fact, the first day that I had it, the stock spanned its range, and I was poised to make some money. Unfortunately, due to my triggers, I was one or two cents below the automatic sell point. I was angry at my fumbling fingers, but I still had the money. I decided that I would hold off for a little while until the stock did it again. The stock, unfortunately, had other plans. It sunk below the $4.50 and then a bit further.

During this time, my mother got sick and needed medical attention. Her finances were in shambles because of poor money management skills, and I was her resource for living expenses and unexpected expenses. How I felt about that obligation is a different story, one which isn’t going to be shared. Her unemployment and her medical bills were getting out of hand, so I had to do something.

I liquidated the stock, taking a $500 loss. I knew that there would be other opportunities, and if I got rid of the stock, I’d be able to support her a little as well as support myself. Frankly, I was livid, because I was dead sure that the stock that I’d just liquidated would be shooting back up and had taken only a temporary dip. This obligation was pressing, and I did what needed to be done. The emergency was averted, and my mother was safe.

It took nearly all of the cash to make sure that her medical bills and living expenses were accounted for. I was still struggling with figuring out my own finances, and was eventually left with nothing. I’d gone through my safety net, and I wasn’t going to be able to get that back again. My mother would pay me back, I knew that, but it would more than likely be in dribs and drabs, not the lump sum that would allow me to get back to playing.

As it turned out, the stock didn’t recover. Not at all. The company itself had filed for bankruptcy and was leaking money like it was going out of style. It was on the down elevator, and it wasn’t going to be able to get off. As of the last check, the stock had reached a low of $.19, and the company’s resources were going to be bought by someone else. The temporary spike from that news brought it up to $1.50 for a single day, then it plummeted. After seeing this news, I was so very thankful that I’d lost only $500, because I had totally planned to keep the stock.

The Lessons Learned

Some people shouldn’t play the stock market

I’m one of those people. I’m too emotional and impulsive, and feel that most of the activity on it should be *doing* instead of waiting. I get emotionally involved in the stocks, and find that I get *extremely* wrapped up in their rise and fall. For those who are out there dreaming of the stock market, the best way to avoid this is to set triggers so that you can go off and do other things rather than worrying about what your investments are doing.

Crappy things happen for a reason

My mother tapped me out of all available cash, but I thank her every time that I think about this particular event. She effectively saved me from losing the entire thing by being sick and needing the money. I would currently be sitting on an investment of a hundred bucks with no chance of recovery if it weren’t for her. I might have been extremely mad about it at the time, but the decision that I made to get the money out saved me more.

Things Change Quickly

In a matter of a week or so, I had gone from having a wonderful little nest of an emergency fund to nothing. I would not hesitate to do it again. I have seen situations change in seconds, whether it be from accidents on the road, to revelations made by friends. We are constantly bucking the changes, but they keep rolling on and on.

Losing that $500 really really sucked at the time. I felt embarrassed, silly, stupid, and a lot of other things. I resented the hell out of my mother for a few weeks because I knew that I could have done better by everyone involved. As it turned out, I did the best that I could and I effectively won. The crisis was handled, and my purse was (comparatively) only a little bit lighter.

Image courtesy of Mikael Miettinen at Flickr.

Have you had a situation which looked ugly, but it turned out that it was one of those better situations which could have happened to you? I’d love to hear about it.

Mindfulness, Not Doing, and Money

After reading Sky Abelar’s post about breaking routines at Pick the Brain, I found myself thinking about it from a personal finance perspective. Are there things that we do on autopilot in regards to our personal finance? You bet there are.

Money permeates all levels of our lives, so it’s necessary that we approach it from a holistic standpoint. It is a factor in what we eat, who our friends are, where we live, what vehicles take us from here to there, and nearly every other aspect in between. There are life events which are triggers for our spending patterns.

I know that there are several routines that I perform on autopilot:

  • When I’m depressed, I buy wavy chips and french onion dip
  • When I’m angry, I need to be kept away from bookstores
  • When I’m happy, I want PENS. Lots and lots of pens.
  • When I’m out early, I want Bojangles Bo-rounds
  • If I’m hungry while out of the house, I eat out

All of these things lead to a gradual depletion of my budget. Most of the time, I’m able to control the urge to fall into the pattern of buying, but there are some times which I am weak. The crazy thing is that I recognize the pattern, acknowledge it, and still embrace it with open arms. The personal budgeting and savings tips tend to go out the window when I’m not having a content, neutral day.

What can I do about it?

From the article at Pick the Brain:
Examine your life, and look for routines, then find other things you can do to replace them, or simply do them differently. Do you always watch TV after dinner? Read a good novel instead. Do you always eat breakfast before you take a shower in the morning? Swap them around, and remember to pay attention to the showering and eating. Don’t get lost in your mind. You’ll save on hot water too!

Do you tend to eat the same things? Try something new. Make healthier choices.

Instead of Facebooking, go for a walk, or do some yoga. Look carefully for all the ways in which you can practice not doing. Or, as the Toltecs say, “stalk yourself”. Stalk yourself like a jaguar stalking it’s prey. Pay attention to what you are doing.

Taking those routines and breaking them is not necessarily easy, but Ms. Abelar has the right idea. Replace the routine with something else, because the body and brain abhor a vacuum. When you’re doing something that’s essentially ‘bleeding’ money, taking the objective view of it can help you change those routines and restore mindfulness.

Image courtesy of Leandro’s World Tour on Flickr

Are there spending patterns in your life that can be changed? Do you notice what happens when you’re angry, sad, happy, or something else in regards to mood? I’d love to know!

How to Save on Video Games

According to the Wikipedia entry, the global video game market in June 2011 was valued at $65 billion. That number doesn’t surprise me at all, actually. In fact, I expected that number to be a lot more because of the casual gamers and the WoW players. That $20 a month subscription definitely adds up when you multiply it by 15 million people. Here are some excellent ways to cut down the cost that YOU are paying to the video game industry.

1. Use Older Consoles

We have a PS2 here, one which is used quite liberally for the Japanese RPGs. Quite often, I’ll pass by and see fights in Mana Khemia or one of the Final FantasyFinal Fantasy games. If you’ve not played it, it’s new to you, right? The cost of a PS2 on Amazon is $99. The cost of a PS3 is $250.

The difference in the games themselves is just as dramatic. For one of the newer games on the PS3, you can expect to pay $50. For one of the games on the PS2, you’re looking at around $20. The savings you can receive on these games definitely adds up.

2. Borrow From Friends

There’s a great possibility that your friends have some of the same tastes as you when it comes to your favorite video games. If the both of you are gamers, you might have had long arguments over whether an amped up Mephisto run was harder than The Ancients in Act 5. If they play the latest and greatest games, see if you can borrow one of them. Chances are, they’ll say yes and you don’t have to spend a dime.

3. Reviews

Reviews are your friend. They can give you an excellent idea about whether a game sucks, what the sticking points are, and other information which will form your opinion about whether you want to spend your precious time on a game that can last many hours.

Some excellent game review sites are:

These sites offer reviews on both the latest and greatest as well as the older games. If you find out that the game sucks, watch the ending on Youtube and save yourself the cash.

4. Play Flash Games

Yes, there are thousands of free flash games which don’t measure up to your standards, but there are always going to be a few gems which do. As a gamer who wants to save some money, you can quell that thirst for games at one of the many free flash game sites around the web. The best one of these that I’ve seen is Jay Is Games. This site caters more to the indy crowd, highlighting games from small developers who want to make their mark. They offer eclectic and honest reviews of the games, and haven’t steered me wrong.

5. Try Before You Buy

For those folks out there who love the hidden object, match 3, and adventure games, take a look at Big Fish Games. Every game on their site is $9.99 or less, and they offer a 1 hour trial period on all of them (with few exceptions). I can’t tell you how many games that I’ve tossed back into the pond after playing the free trial. If you’ve already got one of the popular systems, you can play some of the latest and greatest games at a store which carries them (don’t buy your games there, just play theirs).

6. Gamefly

Gamefly is a service which is much like Netflix. You can rent up to 2 games at one time for a fee of $22.95 a month. Instead of purchasing a game and being stuck with it, you return it as soon as you’re done. For those like me who love trying out everything, this makes a perfect fit because you have unlimited access to their expansive library. You have the choice to simply download the game or have the disc mailed to your home.

7. Internet Cafes

Gamers are everywhere and internet cafes are springing up to take advantage of the business. These internet cafes offer LAN services so that you and your buddies can play great games on state-of-the-art machines. If you’ve been itching to try out the new FPS, you have your chance. You can expect to pay around $10 an hour to play, so it is not cost-effective in the long run, but it is quite useful for a single-shot skirmish.

Video games is often thought to be an expensive hobby, but it doesn’t have to be at all. Using these tips, I spent around $30 on games last year. I’m expecting to pay more this year because I want to get my hands on Diablo 3 and Borderlands 2. When you keep money in your pocket, you have more for the biggest, best, fastest, and strongest passions in your life.