Archive for March 2015

How the Agricultural Economy Affects You

Agricultural Economy

147222315_33fd177da4_zThe further removed our population gets from agriculture, the stronger the misconception that the ag economy doesn?t affect every single one of us gets. But the truth is, the agricultural economy does affect every single person on the earth no matter how far they are distanced from production agriculture.

Agriculture affects all of us positively when times are good for farmers and negatively when times are bad for farmers. With the current challenges facing the ag economy today, namely the low commodity prices, high input costs, and drought that is still occurring in some areas, I wanted to share with you a couple of ways that the agricultural economy has an effect on you.

Food Prices

The price of food at the grocery store?is almost always one of the first things people thing about when they think about how agriculture affects them.

It?s true that what happens in the ag economy does affect food prices at the grocery store, but food prices are also determined by lots of other factors as well. Some of the other areas of our economy are much more highly affected by the agricultural economy than the price of food at the grocery store.

World Trade and the Agricultural Economy

Ag commodities are still one of the biggest industries in the United State today. Though our country and our world has changed a lot since the beginning of world trade, most of the major imports and exports between countries include ag commodities (grains, textiles, meat, etc.) or products derived from these ag commodities.

When you think about it, almost every single product you use throughout your day is at least partially derived from ag commodities. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the cars we drive and the fuel we use in them (ethanol), all of these things are brought to you by agriculture.

Hometown Economy

My rural hometown?s economy is 100 percent dependent on the ag economy. Since the prices of commodities have dropped over the past year or so, our town has seen lots of major challenges arise. Implement dealers, which sell equipment for farmers, have seen sales drop off. Ag banks have seen carry-over debt levels rise. Even retail stores, like the one where I have my part-time job, have seen sales drop due to farmer?s working hard to cut every expense they can to keep their farm above water.

Because the farmers are no longer spending money, people that work in the affected industries are seeing hours being cut to save on labor expenses; our community college is considering cutting several educational programs and activities. I don?t think there is a business in my town that isn?t being affected by this weakening in the ag economy.

For those who don?t live in rural communities, it might be harder to spot the changes in your town?s economy but they are still there. After all, as I pointed out before, nearly every industry is tied to agriculture in one way or another.

 

Have you seen a change in your life or your community health due to the weakening ag economy??Have you noticed a difference in the price of groceries where you live? Do you live in an area that is 100 percent tied to a particular industry?

 

 

Photo courtesy of: Djof

4 Must Follow Steps to Spring Clean Your Finances

spring clean

spring cleanSpring is a season that is full of change, and excitement as the warm and beautiful summer months make their way back into our lives. Many people take the opportunity to clean out their homes in the spring season, after a long winter of staying inside.

While that is a good idea, it is also a great time to spring clean your finances, especially right after you file your income taxes for the year. Take some time out of your schedule to get your finances in order prior to summer so you can spend more time outside enjoying the weather and less time worrying about your bank accounts.

If you’re looking for where to start in order to spring clean your finances, the below tips should help.

Step One ? Take an Overview

Before you can make any changes regarding your financial life, it helps to have a good picture of where you currently stand. If you don?t already do this on an ongoing basis, make a list of all of your various accounts and what they look like at the moment.

That includes bank accounts and any investments that you own, as well as any debts?that you have to pay on a regular basis. Getting everything organized in front of you for an easy overview will help you understand what changes might need to be made.

Step Two ? Cut the Fat

Do you have any budget leaks? Take a critical look at all of your regular and recurring payments to see if any of them are possibilities for a reduction or complete elimination. While you might not want to get rid of you cable TV service, for example, you could opt for a less-expensive package to save money every month.

Don’t just stop at the cable though, look at things like saving money on your cell phone bill, grocery spending and on down the line. The point here is to challenge all of your expenses to see where you can cut the fat. Please also remember this isn’t something to save only for spring cleaning but should be done on a regular basis.

Step Three ? Set New Saving Goals

With your overview taken and some of your unnecessary expenses gone, you can now turn your attention to saving goals for the months ahead. Try to settle on a dollar amount that you hope to move into savings each month above and beyond what you need for your regular budget.

Even if this savings amount is modest, it will help to be able to put something away month after month. Hopefully, as time goes by, you will be able to increase that amount gradually until you have a nice little nest egg put away for later.

Step Four ? Automate the Process

Now would also be a good time to get all of your payments on auto-pay so you don?t accidentally get behind on any of your bills. Almost all of your payments should be eligible for some kind of auto-pay system, which can be a great time saver and can also save you stress knowing you aren?t forgetting to make any of your payments.

You still want to monitor your bank account regularly to make sure the payments are coming out for the right amounts and that no unauthorized activity is taking place. My favorite tool to do this is Personal Capital. What I love about Personal Capital is that it’s completely free and allows you to keep track of your spending as well as manage your investments.

 

What do you do when you spring clean your finances? Do you like to automate your finances as much as possible? What expense are you going to challenge over the next few months?

 

 

Photo courtesy of: DebMomOf3

4 Shopping Tricks to Beware Of

shopping tricks

16586310366_0e380da485_zIf there?s one thing to be thankful for when it comes to my shopaholic ways, it?s that I?ve learned a thing or two about ways to save money and tricks to watch out for when shopping.

Many retailers don?t use sneaky or deceitful ways to get you to spend more money, but unfortunately some of them do. Here are a few common shopping tricks to watch out for so you don?t spend more money.

Making You Want What You Can?t Afford

This shopping trick isn?t really deceitful or sneaky, but it can be quite cruel. Whenever you are shopping for a big purchase, watch out for salespeople who try to make you want things you can?t actually afford. The TLC show ?Say Yes to the Dress? is a great example of this. At the beginning of each wedding dress shopping appointment, the sales consultant asks the bride-to-be what her budget is for her wedding dress. Then the consultant goes to find dresses that fit with the bride?s style, but not always her budget.

Commonly, a family member, friend, or even the sales consultant, will pull a dress that the bride falls in love with that?s outside her budget. Once the bride has fallen in love, there?s no turning back. Almost every single one of them breaks her budget to buy the dress she?s fallen in love with.

Playing the Scarcity Card

Sometimes salespeople, usually car salesmen and real estate agents, will try to tell you ?ones like these are hard to come by? in an effort to make you think you must buy today in order to get what you want. It?s true that with cars and houses once they?re sold they?re sold and you?ll never find another one exactly like them (unless the exact same house goes up for sale again later).

But on the plus side, most houses and cars will have similar options available. So don?t feel rushed into making a buying decision when you aren?t really ready. Most of the time I decide that if I take the time to sleep on it and it truly is gone when I go back to buy it, then it just wasn’t meant to be.

Add on Purchases

Once you?ve decided to buy a product, no matter if it?s a dress, a pair of shoes, or a car, salespeople are trained to up-sell you on accessories. There?s always an add-on product that will help your main purchase last longer, wear better, or offer protection that, nine times out of ten, you don?t actually need.

There?s two ways around this, you either need to have enough willpower to say ?No? when they offer you these products, or you need to shop around the mid-point of your budget?rather than the top end so you are still within it after the add-ons are added.

Now is the Time to Buy

No matter when you talk to sales people, ?now? is always the best time to buy for one reason or another. ?Buy now before interest rates climb.? ?Buy now, before the end of the year for tax purposes.? ?Buy now while it?s on sale.?

There are hundreds of reasons why salespeople claim that ?now? is the best time to buy anything and everything.

 

What are some other common shopping tricks you?ve seen? Have you ever fallen for one of these? What’s one trick you use to avoid impulse purchases?

 

 

Photo courtesy of: Giuseppe Milo

How to Start Investing When You?re Young

start investing

start investingEven if you are 30 years or more away from retirement, it is never too early to start investing. In fact, I think you should start investing when you’re young – the younger the better actually. Keep the following stat in mind; according to the Center for Retirement Research, those who wait until 45 to save for retirement (assuming retirement at age 65) have to save three times as much as those who started at age 25.

With that in mind, if you are able to start investing when you’re young then you should by all means do it. It is also helpful to know that you will very likely have needs later in life that aren’t related to retirement planning?where you will need a sizable amount of money and thus another reason why you should start investing in the stock market when you’re able to.

It goes without saying that there are risks when it comes to investing, but in order to grow your money?some?risk is going to need to be taken. With all of this in mind, here are some tips to help you get started investing when you’re young.

Start Off Small

While you might have big dreams of accumulating significant wealth from your investments, you have to start somewhere ? and that usually means starting out small. There is a good chance you will make a couple mistakes along the way, so don?t expose too much of your money until you are confident that you know what you are doing.

If you’re investing on a limited budget?you might feel like you don’t have the money to invest. This, however, is a myth in my opinion. There are many brokerages out there, such as Motif Investing, where you can open accounts for as little as $250. If you can put away $25 or $50 per month you can reach that amount in under a year. If you’re looking for other options, make sure to check out my best online brokerages?page to see what else is out there to choose from.

Get Some Help

Unless you have an education in investment-related topics, it could be a good idea to get help from someone to help get you started. That can range from getting assistance from a friend or family member who is an experienced investor to using resources made available by your 401(k) plan provider.

The one caution I’d give is to not run out and hire a financial advisor when you’re first starting out investing. There are some good ones that do help those just starting out,?but you also need to be careful as there are also many out there who are compensated by directing you towards one investment or the other. The point being to do your homework before potentially hiring someone.

Read Plenty When You Start Investing

While professional help can be helpful that doesn’t free you of responsibility. One great way to educate yourself as you start investing is to read as much as you can about investing. There are quite a few investing books for beginners?out there, though I tend to direct most to [easyazon_link asin=”0393340740″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”wisedollar-20″ add_to_cart=”yes” cloaking=”default” localization=”default” popups=”yes”]A Random Walk Down Wall Street[/easyazon_link] as it’s the best book out there (in my opinion) that helps boil down some very complex topics and make them simple to understand.

I know that reading about investing might seem overwhelming or boring, but don’t let that hold you back. You want to be able to educate yourself as to the basics so you can get started investing more effectively.

Have a Long Term Plan

Investing should almost always be done with a long term goal or vision in mind, so try to map that out for yourself as soon as possible. That vision doesn?t necessarily have to be a grand one, either ? it could be as simple as trying to accumulate enough money to send your kids to college when the time comes, or to help you purchase a vacation home as you get closer to retirement.

Whatever kind of goals you have for you and your family later in life, starting investing when you are young is a great way to bring them within reach. Start small, ask for help, and educate yourself as much as possible to make your investing experience a good one.

 

How did you start investing when you were young? Do you have any regrets when it comes to investing??What motivated you to start investing in the stock market?

 

 

Photo courtesy of: Michael Daddino

5 Simple Ways to Save Money While Eating Out

Eating out

3268284799_567ee353df_zGoing out to eat is one of my favorite guilty pleasures. Don?t get me wrong, I enjoy cooking, but sometimes it?s nice to let someone else prepare your meal after a long day at work.

I especially love eating out when I go with friends. The only problem with dining out is that it?s not very frugal. Here are five simple ways I save money, without harming the fun experience of eating out.

Order the Special

Most restaurants have a ?special? each day of the week. Some restaurants have the same rotating specials each week, while others have completely different ones depending on what the owner or manager feels like discounting.

The ?special? entr?e is usually $2-3 less than normal and it?s still a good-sized portion. Some restaurants don?t make the portion smaller for the special at all. If you’re trying to eat healthy on a budget, this can be a great way to save a little more money…especially when it’s a smaller portion. 🙂

Split a Meal or Ask for a To-Go Box

There are lots of restaurants in my hometown that serve HUGE food portions. Often times one of my friends and I will decide to split a meal between the two of us to save money?and so we don?t end up wasting a lot of food. Occasionally we?ll make the un-frugal decision to split a dessert too. This is a good treat, but we don?t do it very often.

If my friend and I can?t agree on a meal to split, I usually ask for a to-go box so I can take the leftovers home for later. The biggest mistake I make when asking for a to-go box is leaving the box on the table when I leave the restaurant. 🙁

Skip the Drink While Eating Out

Part of the fun of eating out with my friends is enjoying an alcoholic beverage now and then, but we don?t always get one. Alcohol and other drinks can add a lot of money on to your bill very quickly.

For instance, when I split a meal with my friend at our favorite Mexican restaurant, over half of my bill ends up being my margarita! On the nights that we don?t order a drink, I?ll just order water instead of a soda. Water is healthier and cheaper than pop anyway.

Go to Lunch

Most of the time my friends I do end up dining out for dinner rather than lunch because of our work schedules. But when we get together on the weekends, we try to dine out for lunch instead of dinner.

Lunch portions are typically smaller, so we don?t split meals, but lunch is also usually cheaper than dinner.

Order From the Kid?s Menu

This is a trick I tried out just the other day. We went to a diner to have breakfast for supper and I was really wanting pancakes. The only problem was that all the meals seemed huge. Then I saw the kids menu on the back page. For a kid?s meal with two pancakes, two pieces of bacon, and an egg is was $3.50.

I knew this was a much better portion size, plus that?s all the food I wanted anyway. Despite the menu saying the kid?s menu is only for kids under ten, the waitress let me order off of it anyway. It never hurts to ask! In the end I wasn?t able to finish quite all of my food anyway.

 

What are some ways you save money while eating out? How often do you go out to eat? Do you think restaurant portions are generally way too big?

 

 

Photo courtesy of: japes18