Category Archives: Featured

Financial Lessons Learned From Lime Hard Candy

As we’re immersed in life, we’re also immersed in the lessons which life teaches us. We are amazing creatures, capable of making even the most spurious correlations and connections – our ability to synthesize, when compared to other mammals, is top-of-the-line. What better way to talk and teach about finance than to make lime hard candy?

Lemon candies are everywhere. You can find lemonheads, lemon drops, lemon cough drops, lemon this, and lemon that. Lime? Not so much. Limes taste better, they’re more exotic, and they were the perfect candidate for making candies because of this perceived rarity.

Choose Your End Goal

Now, your finances aren’t the same as creating lime candies. After all, if you put the same ingredients into the mix, you can end up with a lot more things than just a pile of moey at the end. YOu can end up with a trip to Jamaica or your house paid off, or countless jubilant people singing your praises because you gave them some cash. You need to choose the end goal that you seek when it comes to your money situation, else you’ll have a giant goop of materials and nothing done.

Have the Right Tools

After deciding that I was making lime candy, I had to get a baking pan, a sauce pan, the candy thermometer, something to stir with, and the other materials together. What I found was that having a wide pot doesn’t work as well as a smaller saucepan because the candy thermometer isn’t totally immersed. I couldn’t get an accurate reading of the temperature.

Different tools work for different people. With making candies, there’s a specific way that has been tried so many times that it’s been crowdsourced to be the best. With finances, there are a number of tools out there. I like having all of my information in front of me – and as such, I’m really starting to get into the use of Manilla. Think of it like supercharged organization software for real folks.

A Little Goes a Long Way

Confectioner’s sugar goes everywhere, if you let it. My shirt is still covered in the white powder, and I somehow get the feeling that I’m going to be covered in it for a long time – even after doing laundry. I’m very happy that it’s not glitter (called ‘craft herpes’ by some), but it’s still pretty pervading. And a little bit goes a LONG way.

We are incredibly resourceful as individuals, and we can find ways to entertain ourselves and not spend a dime. Not only do we have a lot of tools at our disposal, but there’s a lot of awesome imagination flowing here, too. A little bit of cash can go a long log way if you’re thinking about how little you can spend.

Timing is Essential

There is a point where you have to take the mixture off of the stove and pour it onto your baking sheet. Once the candy has been poured, you need to wait about a minute or two before starting to cut the candy into squares. Too early, and you’re using the knife to lift everything up with it – making a goopy mess. Too late, and the candy itself has hardened to the point where you can’t do anything other than break off a piece.

There are several reasons to time out your finances well. One, you need to make sure that you’re getting the maximum for your dollar – some places don’t allow you to carry over a credit. For many, money is hard to get a hold of, so might as well spend it as effectively as possible. That timing can give a little bit of leeway or feel like it’s being wasted. Your choice.

Looks like Crap, Still Tastes Good

No, there are no pictures of this lime candy. It’s not pretty, though. There’s confectioner’s sugar everywhere, candy has the great ability to shatter into a ton of pieces, and those pieces are not wrapped up all nicenice for other people’s consumption. It’s quite rough, but extremely functional as far as candy goes. Actually, I plan on making more of this for later.

The diference between being a dreamer and being a doer is that a doer will put whatever they’re doing out there and then try to make it better later. The dreamer will try to perfect whatever it is before they put it out, running the risk of never getting it out there. You don’t have to have a perfect budgeting plan, you just need to have a plan.

Here’s the recipe for lime candy:

2 cups water
2 cups sugar
2 tsp essential lime oil
1/2 to 1 cup confectioners sugar (for dusting)

Equipment needed:
Saucepan
Candy thermometer
Baking sheet
Wax paper
Dull knife

Before starting, take your baking sheet, cover it with wax paper, then dust the whole thing with confectioners sugar. Don’t go crazy with the dusting – just enough to cover the whole thing.

The wax paper keeps everything from sticking to the baking sheet. The confectioners sugar keeps your mixture from sticking to the wax paper.

Attach the candy thermometer to the pot, making sure that the bulb doesn’t directly touch the bottom. Turn on the heat and start stirring. Stir until the sugar is dissolved in the water and it starts boiling.

Keep working at it until the temperature reaches 300-310 degrees (hard crack stage). It will take around 10 minutes, and you have to keep an eye on it.

When the temp reaches 300-310, turn off the heat and add the flavoring, giving it a slight stir so it permeates the entire mixture. Pour the mix onto the baking sheet, making sure that it’s evenly spread.

The mix will start cooling immediately. After a minute or two, test to see if you can cut the newly poured mixture without it lifting everything else with it. When you’re able to do that, start cutting the sheet to get the candy into pieces.

Run your knife down, then across, making little squares. Keep doing it until you’re not able to separate the pieces anymore. After it’s cooled slightly, you’ve got candy! Awesome, awesome lime candy.

Writing Advice for Non-Native English Writers

I recently got a comment on my post about Why I Left Textbroker asking for tips on making money online through writing. I have literally made thousands of dollars through writing on Textbroker and other platforms (I’ve recently discovered the joys of Elance, as you know) and, rather than making a short and simple answer, I decided to write a post. Here is some writing advice for the non-native English writer.

First of all, I’m firmly in favor of everyone getting a shot at writing and following their passion for writing. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a non-native English speaker or not – I believe that there’s a place for everyone, and that the need for content is such that everyone can be employed. Good search engine optimization and avoidance of Pandalization drives many content seekers to places like The Content Authority, iWriter, Textbroker, and other content mills.

At these content mills, writers can ‘cut their teeth’ on learning the business of writing for profit. There are literally thousands of articles available for individuals to learn the ins and outs of SEO, article directory submission, and more. There are plenty of non-native English speakers which work on those sites, as well as on Elance, Guru, and Odesk. And they’re making reasonable money for their location.

Here are some tactics to boost your writing skills and get the better jobs.

Interaction

Interact with native English speakers and study their mannerisms and patterns of speaking. One great place to do this is at My Language Exchange, where speakers of your language and speakers of English are paired together to work on teaching each other their native tongue. If you are in more urban areas of your country, it’s highly likely that you come in contact with native English speakers. Choose those with whom you feel comfortable, and ask them to help you practice. Another place which is extremely exciting is Duolingo – it’s in beta right now, but it’s going to be a boon for everyone.

Read fiction

Read fiction written by native English speaking authors. By reading this fiction, you will see some of the dialogue which happens between the characters, and get to understand the nuances of the English language. You see, you’re at a disadvantage, just like every person who is learning another language – you might have the basic mechanics of the language down, but nuance takes longer to learn because it comes from cultural indoctrination. Reading English fiction offers a glimpse of this nuance-filled writing in its natural habitat.

Read non-fiction

Look at some of the copywriting books which are available. There are tons of them out there, though I admit a partiality toward Robert Bly’s The Copywriter’s Handbook. For stylistic issues, turn to Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. You can get a good round base of the mechanics of English, subject/verb agreement, and more. The first thing to strive for in the English writing world is the mechanics — then work toward the art and the passion which comes from learning a new language.

Translation

Find an article written in your native tongue that truly strikes home for you. Translate that article into English, and then show it to a native English speaker to see if they were able to get the passion and beauty of the original article through your words. If you don’t have someone available who will read and critique your English writing, I’ll be more than happy to read it over and tell you where the writing could be better.

Persistence

Keep writing. And writing. And more writing. And then when you’re done writing, write some more. Keep submitting that writing to the content mills and see if they will give you a true critique of your work, rather than telling you that you didn’t put a comma here or there. The only way that you’re going to get better, and the only way that you’re going to be taken seriously and make real money within the English article writing world is if you write. If you’re merely after a few bucks, that’s one thing, but if you want to make a real serious go at it, you have to keep writing.

Non-native English speakers have several advantages and disadvantages when it comes to competing against English speaking writers. Because of the cost of living, you can afford to charge content seekers less, but usually your work doesn’t compare in quality to the native English speaking writing. Push yourself into becoming better at English, study mannerisms, and get the technical work down cold. When you advance to the next level, it will be extremely rewarding.

Photo is courtesy of Zoetnet on Flickr, and is used with permission through the Creative Commons Attribution License.

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How to Save Money the Easy Way

With the economy still struggling and many people still in very difficult financial situations, everybody is looking for how to save money. Unfortunately, many people don’t quite know where to start, as it is very difficult for most of us to prioritize costs and know where to spend, where to save, and where to invest. The good news is that these problems do not arise due to any shortage of opportunity – people who carefully plan and keep their eyes open can find endless opportunities to save in their daily lives. Here are some excellent money-saving tips which will help you keep more money in the bank.

Ignore brand names

This tip can apply to everything from buying new clothes, new appliances, or groceries. Those store brand products are usually just as good as the ‘name’ brands, and often sell at a fraction of the price.

Minimize Your Transportation, Minimize Gas Costs

While the best money saving tip would be to leave the car behind and choose public transportation, this is obviously not a choice which can be made in most areas. When possible, try to use your bike or even your feet. Instead of making the special trip to the gym, take a walk around the neighborhood. Remember, you are trying to save money overall, and every little bit that you don’t spend, you can save for later.

Cut Back on Bad Habits

Bad habits are expensive, and you are spending large amounts of money to sustain those habits. The average price of a 2 liter bottle is $1.50. The average price of a pack of cigarettes is $5. The cost for good alcohol is enormous. Minimizing, or even cutting out altogether, these bad habits will both save money and reduce the instance of the bad habit.

Get Stable Investments

The stock market is a roller coaster. The real estate market is in shambles. Give some thought to investing in gold, a more appropriate and stable safe haven for your money.

Sell Your Stuff

Many people have attics, basements, and storage units that are positively crammed with goods that are just collecting dust. Have a good garage sale, look toward one of the selling sites, or simply sell some of this to friends. You’d be absolutely amazed with the amount of money that you can earn, and you’re clearing the way to a more minimalist, frugal household. If you clear out your storage unit to the point where you don’t have to have it anymore, that’s an additional savings per month.

Keep your eye out for coupons and deals

There is nothing so tasty as a meal which is bought with a coupon. There is nothing which reads better than a book bought at a significant amount off of the list price. Keeping those deals in mind is easier than ever these days – there are sites, apps, the tried and true local papers, and more which have the frugal person in mind. Before you purchase something at retail, think about the deals which you can get on those products.

Photo is courtesy of Epsos.de and is used with permission under the Creative Commons Attribution license.

Saving Money When You Have a Collection Obsession

When Magic: the Gathering came out, people went crazy for the idea of collectible cards for geeks. During the time, there were no thoughts given to saving money – it was all about the Black Lotus and the ways that you could play with the cards. If more than one of something exists, people will collect it. Cards, buttons, clowns, you name it.

I saw the frenzy for Magic cards when it first happened and immediately decided that I would have no part of it. I have a collector’s mentality, and saving money doesn’t enter into the picture when I’m focused on something. I was there with stamps, video games, and music and I knew that there would be no inexpensive road with Magic because it had everything: shiny, competition, and collectibility.

There are two sensible ways to approach the collector’s mentality: practice moderation or practice denial. Here are several ways that I have managed the collector’s mentality without breaking the bank. Here are some ideas about saving money when the collection obsession strikes.

Practicing Moderation

1. Get a job which satisfies the craving
My fascination with collections has more to do with quantity, rather than specific items within the collection. I’m collecting things just to have a large mass of something instead of focusing on the quality of the items themselves. This means that I am able to settle for the beat up comic book as long as I have it in my collection, and I can have a lot of cheap pens rather than a single $5000 pen.

Acknowledging this particular point of my collector’s mentality made me the perfect candidate to work in the printing industry. I loved printing pallets of paper, and I especially enjoyed the large jobs where I was printing case after case of paper for the customer. There was no greater thrill than to point at a boatload of physical documents and beam with pride because I knew that they were correctly printed.

Several years after my Kinko’s job, I got a job as a construction librarian. I would maintain both the physical and virtual copies of plans and specifications for construction projects around the area. I love to keep track of the little details and lists, and I got to track packages, accept inventory, and maintain lists of all of the current jobs. I was in heaven. The virtual documents gave me the same thrill as the physical ones did, and that part of the collection didn’t take any space at all.

2. Choose a small collection
At the time, I knew that the popularity of Magic would blow up. There would literally be thousands of cards that I would have to purchase in order to have a full collection. Most of the cards were common, meaning that I could get inexpensive playable decks. The unfortunate part about that equation is that rare cards are expensive, making up for the cheapness of the common cards.

Comparatively, I could have gone with establishing a baseball or football card collection. In that instance, I would have tried to get everything from Honus Wagnerr up to the latest and greatest. A collection of these cards would more than eclipse anything from Magic, though the expense would also be astronomical.

I chose to go with something smaller. A lot smaller. I decided to get all of West Wing. I decided to get all of the Harry Potter books. This, by virtue of the potential size of the collection, limited the amount of money that I’d pay for it. I’m satisfied after getting one of something, so I didn’t have to think about getting a reading or watching collection and then an investment collection. When compared to what could have been, I picked the lesser of the evils.

3. Pick a cheap solution
As I said, I am more fascinated with quantity rather than quality in most of my collections. I try to deliberately choose my obsessions, and I will pick the least expensive option. For example: I love pens, and I have the choice about whether to collect the $1-$2 stick pens or the super-jewel-encrusted-writes-in-three-colors fountain pens. I chose to get a large bin of the less expensive pens to satisfy the collection urge.

4. Set a budget
The obsession will generally grow if it’s left alone. I make the conscious decision to get into a collection so that I can set my personal limits and boundaries for spending. When I was making money, I set a hard limit of $200 for any new obsession or collection that I wished to pursue. This was before I was concerned about money management or becoming financially independent. It was later revised to $50, with the full knowledge that I would use the money and then wait until the urge struck once more. In most cases, spending the money will adequately satisfy the urge.

5. Get Virtual Things
To save on space, getting a virtual collection is the best bet. I was thrilled when mp3s came out, because I could put hundreds of songs on a CD instead of the few that I could put on a tape. As a result, I started to amass a collection of hundreds of songs. I didn’t listen to all of them, I was just collecting them to have a large collection of songs. I can say that I’ve got at least 15 gigs of music and be absolutely serious about it.

Practicing Denial

6. Live Vicariously Through Others
I will occasionally visit the construction library where I used to work, just so I can get the warmth that I used to get when I worked there. I know that it’s a bit odd, but the practice saves me money in going out to get my own collection of construction plans. My friends have various collections, and I love to look at them because it keeps me away from my personal path of obsessing over certain objects.

7. Don’t get the first one
For me, the passion that I have for objects is visceral. I have to have it, and nothing will stop me from getting it other than myself. Nobody can convince me that I am not getting an object, I have to convince myself. I felt that allure when I first saw the Magic cards. I had to stop myself before purchasing the first pack, because I knew that future paychecks depended on my decision.

I played the waiting game. I felt the urge, almost gave in, and then decided that I would wait for two weeks to see if I still wanted it. This is an excellent exercise for those who are debating about bringing objects into their lives. When the two weeks rolled around, I went back to the merchant to see if I wanted them. I found out that I did, so I decided to wait for another two weeks. The key to this form of denial is convincing yourself that you will eventually get whatever it is, so it doesn’t turn into an obsession. I used those same lame excuses that people use for NOT doing something to save me money. You know the ones: I don’t have any money! I don’t have the time! I’m doing something else right now!

When faced with the collection obsession, I used several tactics to keep the urges in check. I still have cravings for collecting stuff, but now I generally tell myself that there’s something better out there than whatever it is and that I need to save it. That tactic has worked the best for me and kept me away from paycheck threatening collections.

What types of things have you done to quell a collection obsession? Do you have any friends whose collections borderline hoarding? What sorts of advice would you give?