Book Review: Getting Started by Brian T. Jones

If you visit this website regularly, you probably aren't a novice to the basics of personal finance. You're already familiar with what you need to do to retire, how to protect yourself through insurance, and what constitutes good debt versus bad debt.

There's probably at least one person in your life, however, who hasn't started doing their own financial planning yet, and that's where this book might come in handy. If you know folks in their twenties or early thirties who are clueless about money but might be ready to change that, Getting Started: The Financial Guide For A Younger Generation would make a great gift.

This book's main strength is that it is easy to understand and a fast read. Its 178 pages are divided into ten chapters covering subjects like debt, real estate, and retirement planning. Each chapter has sidebars that give real life examples of both how to manage your money well and how to completely mismanage it (it's always better to learn from other people's mistakes instead of making them yourself). The book doesn't overwhelm the reader with information, but it doesn't leave any subject out, either -- even subjects that young folks don't think they need to know about yet, like estate planning. It also addresses subjects that I don't always see addressed in personal finance books or blogs, like the effects of marriage, kids, or divorce on your finances. These events certainly have a major effect on your money and it makes a lot of sense to cover them.

The book does have a few weaknesses. Since it is really just a quick introduction to the subject of personal finance, anyone who is sparked into action by reading it will probably need to pick up another personal finance primer or two to get more detailed information on the steps they'll need to take (I always recommend The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need by Andrew Tobias and The Secrets of Wealth by Fabio Marciano). Also, there were a couple of points in the book where I thought, "if I were a novice, I would have no idea what he was talking about right now." Those moments were brief though and didn't interfere with the overall simplicity of the book. At a couple of points, the book oversimplifies an issue. For example, in the first chapter, the author lists six ways to increase cash flow. Most of them make a lot of sense: don't start spending more every time you start making more, learn to cook instead of eating out all the time, and set limits on your annual vacation costs. But second on his list is to use coupons. Those of us who are in the know realize the coupons are often a waste of money because the store brand is cheaper or the coupons are for something we wouldn't normally buy. I suppose this is a minor quibble, but I point it out because I think there are a couple of areas where the book has good intentions but doesn't give the best advice (not that the advice is bad, just that it could be better).

Despite a couple of imperfections, I would still highly recommend this book. It should be required reading for any college senior or other young person who is about to enter the world of supporting oneself. I think it offers something that other personal finance primers out there do not offer by being short and sweet. It doesn't talk down to the reader and it isn't boring. Getting Started offers just enough information to get a newbie to begin making the right decisions about money and taking those first steps to getting everything in order.

Stock photo.

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How To Plan A Grocery List

It's a generally accepted rule of personal finance that if you make a grocery list and stick to it, you'll spend less than if you went into the store unarmed. Not only will you avoid impulse purchases, you'll also make better use of what you actually buy because you will have considered how you'll use it in advance. Making a grocery list sounds simple enough, but there are several things you can do to get the most out of planning a trip to the store.

Take stock of what you already have. Whenever I make my grocery list, I look through the pantry, fridge, and freezer to see what I already have that can be used in future meals or snacks. Maybe I have pasta, but no sauce, or a can of enchilada sauce and plenty of tortillas, but no cheese. By figuring out how to use what you already have on hand, you can reduce your overall bill. Keep in mind that sometimes this strategy can backfire: if you have a can of olives, but need to buy olive oil, crushed red pepper flakes, dijon mustard, and bread before you can turn the olives into olive tapenade, you won't exactly be saving any money unless you have multiple uses planned for those other ingredients.

Plan your list around sales and coupons. To stretch your budget even further, when planning your meals for the week, take into consideration what's on sale and what coupons are available. If you don't get the Sunday paper, you won't get the coupons, but you can still check out most store's weekly flyers on their websites.

Organize your list. If your list has you running from the frozen food aisle to the meat department and back, not only will your trip take forever, you'll also be tempted to buy things that aren't on your list every time you cross the store. If you organize your list by grocery store aisle, you'll save both time and money.

Don't over-purchase perishable items. I hate going to the store, so I like to buy as much food as possible in one trip. However, this sometimes results in perishable foods like fruits, veggies, and cheese spoiling before I can use it all. Be realistic about how much of these items you can eat between store visits so you don't have to toss your money in the trash. This includes not stocking up on something like milk just because it's on sale if you know you won't be able to easily consume it all.

Plan to use your freezer or closet. Bulk buying for items that won't spoil quickly, either because you can freeze them or because they aren't perishable, is a great strategy for saving money on any item you purchase regularly. If you show up at the store and find out that chicken is half off or soda is 99 cents for a six pack, stock up! You'll thank yourself for weeks to come.

Only take what you can afford to spend. If your budget is really tight or you have a bad habit of overspending on groceries, estimate how much the items on your grocery list will cost, then take cash to the store so you're forced to stick to your list and keep your spending within your budget.

With these simple tips, you're now well-equipped to plan a budget-friendly grocery list and save money every time you go to the store.

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Travel Gadgets Worth Buying

While many travel gadgets will do nothing but drain your wallet and take up valuable space in your luggage, there are a few highly practical items that will give you a lot of bang for your buck. No item on this list costs more than $20, and you can purchase every item here for about $115 before tax and shipping.

1. Handle Scale. This is a small device that you can use to weigh your luggage without a scale. You attach one end of the scale to your luggage handle and you pull up on the other end to get a weight measurement for your bag. If you are a chronic overpacker, with today's decreased weight and baggage allowances, the $10 or less you'll spend on one of these scales will pay for itself and then some when you avoid fees of $25 or more per bag that exceeds the weight limit. The key to saving money here is to stick with a $10 model and not blow money on a $25 model.

2. Luggage handle extender. Another relatively inexpensive item at around $15, this item prevents you from having to stoop over to pull your suitcase. It's just not worth it to not have to strain yourself to drag your luggage around. I'm not particularly tall, and yet I find that the luggage handles on rolling suitcases are always too short for me. Flying is uncomfortable enough as it is -- there's no need to add to that discomfort by awkwardly hauling your luggage around and straining your back and neck when the solution is so cheap.

3. Money belt. Your best bet is to get the smallest size for your needs so it won't be as uncomfortable or bulky under your clothes. Also, you'll want to get one made of a fabric that won't get drenched in your sweat -- no one wants your sopping wet Euros, and you don't want any of your important documents getting soggy. Though I haven't used it myself, I hear silk is a good fabric choice. If you already have a cotton money belt like I do, just store your belongings in a small ziplock and then put the ziplock in the money belt to keep your belongings dry and save $20.

4. Dual voltage travel hairdryer. I got one at Walgreens for $10 a few years ago, and it's so effective and durable that I have been using it as my regular hairdryer for the last four years. Travel hairdryers are 1/2 to 1/4 the size of regular hairdryers, which saves lots of space and weight in your luggage. You often won't know ahead of time if the place you're staying will have hairdryers available, and traveling with wet hair in cold weather can be pretty unpleasant. On the other hand, if you're going to be traveling in warm weather, I say forget the hairdryer altogether and let your hair air dry. It will save you space and weight in your luggage, save time getting ready, and it's better for your hair.

5. Travel duct tape. Some travel stores will sell you a miniature roll of duct tape for $3. While I agree with them that duct tape can be invaluable for repairing broken shoes and torn luggage when you're on the go, you'll save money by purchasing an entire gigantic roll of duct tape for $6 and making your own miniature travel rolls. Plus, you'll still have some left over for use around the house.

6. Microfiber towel. Particularly if you're hosteling, the available towels are likely to be small and scratchy, and sometimes you'll even have to pay for the privilege of borrowing them. Microfiber towels really do live up to their highly absorbent claims. They also dry quickly and don't take up much space. If you bring your own regular towel with you, it will take up a ton of room in your luggage and, if you're moving from city to city, it will often still be wet when you want to use it because it won't have a chance to dry fully before you have to pack it. Drying off with a damp, mildewy towel or an overly small, scratchy towel is no fun. Bringing a larger towel of your own can also be especially useful in hostels, where bathroom and shower privacy is often limited and you probably don't have a bathrobe to cover up with.

7. LED light. These are very inexpensive, small, lightweight, long-lasting, and highly effective. They'll light your way in a power outage or allow you to stay up and read when your roommates want to sleep. Opt for one that you can turn on and off rather than the kind you have to squeeze constantly. I have one with a clip attachment. I can attach it to my book for reading, or attach it to a cloth headband for an instant headlamp.

8. Personal safety alarm. For women, children, and anyone with limited strength or mobility, a small personal safety alarm that you can keep in your pocket or clip to your purse can give you extra peace of mind and scare off people who try to harm you. Make sure you pick a model that is difficult to set off by accident while still being easy to set off in an emergency. Expect to spend around $10 - $15 for one of these. If you're concerned about your safety while you sleep in your hotel room at night, for a similar price they also make doorstop alarms that will both make it more difficult for an intruder to open your door and also set off a loud alarm. Me, I would probably just keep my personal safety alarm under my pillow rather than buying both.

9. Silk sleep sack. These are small, lightweight, effective, and can be purchased for around $20 on eBay (as opposed to $40 from a travel shop). If you're hosteling, sleeping bags are generally verboten and you'll often have to pay to rent sheets for your bed -- stiff, scratchy sheets, at that. Having your own sleeping gear that fits hostel requirements will save you money and ensure that you have a comfortable place to sleep. Even if you aren't hosteling, this product can provide extra warmth in hotels and on airplanes and trains. Silk keeps you cool in the summer and warm in the winter while also weighing very little and being very compact.

10. Compass. Foreign cities are often not laid out in the convenient grids that many of us in the U.S. are so accustomed to. Rather than being distracted by an awkward map and making it apparent to ne'er -do -wells that you're lost, learn to navigate with a compass. It's easy to check discreetly and learning to get around using cardinal directions will ultimately improve your navigational skills much more than memorizing a string of left and right turns. You're much less likely to get lost when you know which way is north, and on overcast days you won't be able to rely on the sun for clues.

Many of these items are best purchased on eBay or from national mass retail chains rather than from expensive specialty travel stores. However, some items aren't any cheaper on eBay, and in some cases you may save money by buying the items from a travel store because you'll only have to pay for one large shipment instead of ten smaller ones. You may even be able to get free shipping if your order exceeds a certain threshold.

These travel gadgets can be very helpful, but if you're traveling on a tight budget, you can still get by just fine without them. If you can afford a few minor luxuries, though, these items can make your travels a little safer and more comfortable for a very reasonable price.

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Self Employment via eBay: Yet Another Update

I'm always looking for ways to make self-employment income, so last summer, I decided to conduct a thorough experiment in what it would be like to run an eBay business by helping a friend clean out his closet and sell the stuff he wanted to get rid of. I also read a few books on the subject and made a detailed spreadsheet to keep track of the time I spent photographing, listing, packaging, and shipping items, along with the eBay and PayPal fees incurred for selling each item.

Between this and my previous shoe-selling experiments, I had to conclude that trying to make even a part-time income in eBay is a near total waste of my time. After factoring in time and expenses, each sale netted only about $5 per hour of work. This figure includes both items that sold remarkably well and items that did not sell at all. I primarily sold items such as action figures, textbooks, and brand-name clothes and shoes.

Considering that I have a college degree and a strong work ethic, working for $5 an hour doing something I don't even enjoy really doesn't seem worth it. The only reason the eBay thing appealed to me at all was that it was something I could do independently and from home. There are more enjoyable ways, and more lucrative ways, for me to make money, though. Photographing items and writing eBay listings is incredibly time consuming, and I definitely don't have a natural talent for writing descriptions that entice people to buy. Plus there are the issues of figuring out what to sell and where to buy it cheaply enough to make a worthwhile profit. Also, from the reading I did, running a retail business just sounded like a major pain. You have to keep track of inventory, worry about sales tax, and have more complicated tax returns than a self-employed person who provides a service (like consulting).

I know there are lots of people out there who make a good living selling on eBay, and I definitely respect that. I just think I'm better off sticking with writing and editing. And if you have plenty of time to spare, there's nothing wrong with making a few extra bucks selling your old stuff online. I still do it sometimes, even though the payoff isn't hot. If you're already busy though, like I was, you're probably better off just donating your unwanted stuff and enjoying the extra free time or using it to do something that will give you a better return on your investment of time, like taking a class that improves your job skills.

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Property Virgins

Lately, I've been hooked on an HGTV show called Property Virgins. The show features real estate agent Sandra Rinomato as she guides first-time homebuyers through the purchase of a property in cities across the U.S.

I think the show provides a really interesting, easy-to-digest format for learning about the home-buying process. Each episode deals with a real person or couple searching for their first home and the real problems and pitfalls they encounter. The show is very realistic: not every episode has a happy ending. Sometimes the show's guests don't find the right property, or the sale falls through, or they decide they aren't ready yet. You get to see how the offer-writing process works and how home prices are negotiated.

When a potential buyer decides to go under contract, you'll get to see them go through the home inspection process and learn about some of the common issues that come up, including which ones are worth running away from and which ones are considered by professionals to be easy fixes. You also get to see what you can buy with different amounts of money in different markets, though lately I've been noticing a lot of episodes taking place in Colorado and Texas. I love the house-shopping-from-my-couch aspect of the show, and I feel like I'm getting a better idea of what I want in a house and what to expect from the home-buying process so that I'll be fully prepared when I'm ready to buy.

The show's host, Sandra Rinomalto, is a great lesson in what everyone should hope for in a real estate agent. Whenever she shows a house, she has the buyers go in first to form their own impressions of the home before she comes in and shares her opinion. She doesn't pressure her clients into decisions they don't want to make, though she does try to point out to her clients when they are letting their fears get the best of them. She also seems to have a great sense of what a fair price for a house is (in multiple cities, no less) and helps her clients get a fair deal, whether that means asking for a purchase price of $10,000 less than the asking price or offering full price. Even when she disagrees with her clients, she respects their wishes.

If buying a home is in your future plans and you have access to this show, I highly recommend it.

Photo by sfadden

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Ten Cons of Working for a Small Business

While I've said that I think working for a small business can be surprisingly beneficial, it can also have many undeniable drawbacks.

1. Lower pay.
Many small businesses simply do not have the resources that large companies do. While you may get more experience, you'll often get paid less than you would doing the exact same work for a larger company. When there's less money to work with and no human resources department around to figure out how to set up a small business 401k or dental insurance, you're also unlikely to get as many benefits as a large company could offer.

2. Fewer vacation days. Small businesses have fewer employees, which means that there are fewer people around to pick up the slack when you're gone. This translates to bosses that are reluctant to let you take a real vacation. Of course, this happens in large companies, too. If vacation days are important to you and you're looking at working for a small business, make sure to pick a boss who values his vacation time as much as you do and will want you to stay home and recover when you're sick.

3. Increased workload. There is a lot of work involved just to operate a business, including payroll, taxes, business insurance, and business licenses, and these things alone can take up a lot of time. On top of that, the business's actual work needs to get done. With more work and fewer employees to spread it around to, any increase in workload will frequently fall on you and you alone.

4. Less opportunity to meet new people. Large companies can be great places for making new friends. If you don't really click with the people in your department, you can always find some people in accounting to have lunch with instead. If your company only has five employees and you don't get along with them, you're out of luck. Working for a small company can be lonely at times, too -- there will be days when everyone is out except you.

5. Less job security. In the age of Enron, this one is questionable, but let me put it this way: if your company has one boss and five employees (none of whom have any ownership of the company) and your boss suddenly dies in a car accident, there goes your job. At a large company, someone would be next in line to take over your boss's role, the the company and your job would remain intact.

6. Increased likelihood of menial tasks. Small business often do not have cleaning staff, suppliers, or dedicated receptionists. If you think that taking out the trash, doing the dishes, answering phones, opening mail, and making trips to Office Depot shouldn't be in the job description of someone with your credentials, a small business environment may not suit you. You may be able to avoid this issue if the business has multiple employees and your skills and experience automatically place you high in the ranks.

7. Limited mobility. Particularly in well-established small companies and extremely small companies, job titles may be well-filled or beyond your reach. If the only job titles in your company are President and Assistant, there isn't a lot of room to get promoted.

8. More blame when things go wrong. Since you're likely to have greater responsibility in a small business setting, you're also more likely to be the one who gets blamed when things go wrong. If you work for a small company, you'll need to be extra diligent about not making mistakes or be convincing enough to successfully blame your errors on potted plants.

9. Fewer resources. Small business usually can't afford the kind of top-of-the-line software and equipment that bigger companies can. They can't get volume discounts on these purchases and are operating on a smaller overall budget. You're also unlikely to get invited to a lavish company holiday party in a fancy art museum -- the resources just aren't there. In my experience, smaller companies seem to be more focused on work product and less focused on impressive perks.

10. Lack of name recognition. In many fields, it doesn't matter if anyone has ever heard of your company or not, but in some fields, working for a company with a big name can be the key to your future success (McKinsey, anyone?).

Now that you are familiar with some of the most important pros and cons of working for a small business, you'll be well-equipped to decide if this option is for you the next time you're searching for a job.

Photo by Yo Spiff

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Attitude, Luck, and Personal Finance

Your attitude affects your relationships, your health, and even how much money is in your bank account. If you think of yourself as someone who is unlucky or bad at managing money, you will probably live on the edge financially for the rest of your days. By contrast, if you acknowledge that you can create your own luck and choose to be wealthy with every financial decision you make, you’ll be amazed at how your life will turn around. Certain bad events are completely out of our hands, but there are always a variety of choices you can make in any disaster that will bring you entirely different outcomes.

Let’s say your car breaks down and will need expensive repairs before it can be driven again, but you don’t have the money to pay for the repairs right now and you still have to get to work somehow. You can choose to pay for the repair on your credit card, or you can choose to find alternate transportation until you’ve saved up enough to pay for the repairs. Choosing to put the repair on your credit card will make you “unlucky” by creating high-interest credit card debt that can quickly spiral out of control and be difficult to pay off. Choosing to delay the expensive payment until you’ve saved up the money for it will make you “lucky” by keeping your finances in good order. It will also give you time to shop around for repairs and get even "luckier" by finding a place that can do the work for less money.

To keep your attitude positive, pay close attention to the company you keep. Good friends who also have positive attitudes toward money can keep you out of financial trouble. There are also a lot of great books out there on the subject. I particularly like Secrets of the Millionaire Mind by T. Harv Eker, which you'll see me recommend over and over again on this site. A large part of the book is dedicated to correcting misconceptions those of us who are not wealthy have about people with money. Remember, you create your own luck, and you can choose to be lucky.

Photo by Nadine Menger

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Ten Pros of Working for a Small Business

Working for a small business can be substantially different from working from a medium sized or large business in ways that many people don't realize. I have worked for several small businesses and think it's an interesting and highly beneficial experience that everyone should have at least once. Here's why.

1. Ability to learn about all parts of the business operation. In a large company, each person is likely to have a specific role, like bookkeeping, payroll, tax preparation, or management. In a small business, a single person will generally need to take on multiple roles. If you haven't figured out where your interests lie yet, this can be a great way to explore multiple job titles without having to change jobs or to get hired for a position that you haven't yet mastered. Also, when it's time to move on to your next job, you'll be able to market yourself for a larger number of positions. If the company you want to work for is hiring a bookkeeper, you can say you are a bookkeeper, and if they're looking for an HR person, you can say you are an HR person. If you think you'd like to run your own business one day, you'll also benefit from being able to observe firsthand just how much work is involved.

2. Ability to learn directly from the CEO. In a large company, you may never interact with the head honcho, but in a small business, you're likely to interact with them frequently or even work directly for them. If you have any interest in running your own business in the future, particularly in the same field, the things you can learn from this person will really be invaluable.

3. More responsibility. This can be good or bad, depending on what you're looking for in a job, but when you work for a small company, there will be times when decision-making tasks will fall on you whether they are supposed to or not and whether you want them to or not. You'll quickly learn to handle the stress of decision-making and how to make the decisions that your boss wants you to make. A high level of responsibility looks good on resumes and builds character.

4. Less office drama. Statistically speaking, the fewer people you work with, the less likely you are to encounter gossips and drama queens. On the other hand, if you do have one in your small office, you'll have to deal with them a lot more often (but at least they'll have fewer people to talk about).

5. Less red tape and more flexibility. To some extent, this benefit will depend on your boss's personality, but the reason large companies often have so much red tape is because with so many employees, there need to be standardized procedures to make sure that work is streamlined and employees receive fair and equal treatment. Of course, we all know that the systems at large companies, especially government agencies, are often flawed in ways that make them incredibly inefficient. At a small business, if you need a new computer, you tell your boss and she either says, "Okay, I'll order one for you;" "Okay, order one that's under $1200;" or "No." If your request is approved, you go online, order your new computer, and it arrives in as little as a day. At a large company, you have track down someone in IT, then they have to get approval from someone else, who has to get approval from someone else who will stall for six weeks, then another department has to do the ordering, and finally IT has to set up your new computer for you even if you know how to do it yourself.

6. Easier upgrades. Along those lines, in the large companies that I've worked for, they've often used very outdated software because of the great difficulty and expense involved in updating so many systems. At a small company, it's much easier to switch to the newest program or version because only a few people will need to make the switch. This concept also applies to non-computer issues. If you come up with a more effective way to do payroll, it will be much easier to implement in a small business than in a large one, which means you're more likely to get approval to put your plan into action. If you like to do things your way, a small business setting can facilitate that. As an added bonus, you'll be more effective in improving your company and more likely to get a raise.

7. Decreased workload: In some cases, when you work for a small business, there will be fewer people giving you assignments, which means that you may be less likely to be overworked. If you value being able to go home at the same time every day and/or don't handle stress well, a small business environment can be a great asset to your mental health.

8. More casual atmosphere. I've never worked for a small business that asked me to dress up. Small businesses are more likely to be located in homes, meaning that the company doesn't need to worry as much about projecting a certain image to neighboring businesses and probably won't have clients over very often, if ever (I've found that small businesses like to project the image that they're much larger than they are, and inviting a client to your one bedroom apartment destroys that image). When working in a non-traditional office setting, you'll probably be able to wear jeans to work. You're also more likely to be able to take breaks when you need them, eat snacks whenever you're hungry, and listen to music while you work.

9. It's easier to get noticed/get credit for your work. Even if your boss is so busy that she doesn't seem to be aware of many of your contributions to the company on a day-to-day basis, you'll have a much better chance of getting credit for your work when you're not competing with 100 other employees who also want the boss's attention. When you are more closely involved with your boss, it can be easier to justify raises and promotions because the person who can give you these things will have plenty of firsthand knowledge of what you've done for the company.

10. Ability to work independently. Are you one of those people who thinks that the best way to get something done and done right is to do it all by yourself? In a small company, you're more likely to work on tasks alone. You can also take full credit for your successes when you're the only person working on an assignment.

While most people probably think that working for a large company that offers lots of benefits and upward mobility is the best way to advance your career, I've found that working for a small business can have many benefits that will be just as helpful to you in both the short and long term.

Photo by ryanirelan

Things I've Learned From Commuting

There was once a ten month period of my life when I put myself in a work/live situation that involved commuting a long distance in my car in order to save money. I spent a minimum of two hours in my car every day, or ten hours per week. The shortest drive I ever had was about forty minutes, and the longest drive I ever had lasted a whopping two hours. Every day, I woke up at 6:30 a.m. utterly exhausted and didn't get home until 7 p.m. I saved a large amount of money by moving in with a roommate and moving to a cheaper part of town, and I'm glad I saved the money, but I'm not entirely sure it was worth it and I definitely wouldn't do it again. Here's why:

-Getting up an hour earlier every day combined with the stress of all that extra driving really took its toll on my energy level. I found myself only having about two hours of free time each evening, much of which was occupied by things like making dinner and other household tasks, before I became too tired to actually enjoy the rest of my free time.

-I was so tired from the work week that I quit spending time with friends, or even calling them on the phone, because I didn't have the energy.

-I stopped going out and doing things in the evenings or on the weekends because I couldn't stand the thought of spending another minute on the road.

-I was dead tired by Wednesday or Thursday every week.

-The extra stress and lack of sleep meant that I was generally on a short fuse and found myself having a bad temper for the first time in my life.

I also picked up a few valuable lessons about driving in the process:

-Driving during rush hour is stressful not so much because of the ridiculous amount of time it takes, but because you have to spend so much energy trying not to get into an accident due to the ridiculous number of cars on the road.

-The stereotypes about people who drive luxury cars exist for a reason.

-I got tailgated and refused the right of way much more often while driving an old car than in a newer car.

There were a couple of upsides to commuting, but they didn't really make up for the downsides:

-Learning foreign languages in my car

-Never getting behind on all of my favorite podcasts

-The occasional day of light traffic (because I do actually enjoy driving under peaceful conditions--I actually find it to be a great form of stress relief!)

-The money I saved by living where the rent was low and working where the pay was high

-The joy I experienced from knowing exactly which lane was the fastest on any given stretch of road and exactly which route to take on which day to make the best time. I always knew where a lane would back up from people turning left, where a lane would back up from people turning right, and which freeway entrance had the shortest line. It sounds strange to write that this made me happy, but it did.

-The joy I experienced from finding a little-traveled shortcut that saved me both time and stress on part of my commute

-The extra time I had to myself before work every morning.

Interestingly, while searching for an appropriate photo for this post on Flickr, I realized that for many people, rush hour means enduring crushing mobs on public transportation. I haven't dealt with that myself on more than a couple occasions, but it was one consideration when I chose to stick it out in my car instead of taking the bus. I figured that whatever stress was alleviated by not worrying about car accidents would be replaced by the stress of being crushed, pickpocketed, standing up for two hours, or having to sit next to someone scary or smelly. I didn't think I would be able to use the time very effectively, because I have very poor concentration in the absence of complete quiet. There was also the issue of changing buses twice, waiting for the bus in the dark, and spending even more time commuting than I was already.

Perhaps the worst thing about the commute was that it conflicted with my values. In the past, I had always actively pursued situations that involved living no further than one mile from my job so that I could walk to work. I reasoned that any extra money I might make from a job that was further away would be quickly eaten up by the financial and emotional expense of buying a car, maintaining a car, insuring a car, losing sleep, and dealing with stressful traffic. Well, I was right! The self-loathing I felt every day as I did something that completely conflicted with my beliefs was probably the hardest thing about commuting.

Needless to say, I don't commute anymore, and my upper limit on drive time to work for the rest of my life is going to be twenty minutes each way (if that). I think it's worth it to spend more money on housing to live close to a high-paying job, or spend less on housing and take a pay cut to work in a lower-paying area. I don't think there is any job out there that would be so appealing to me that I would be willing to commute to it (i.e., be exhausted and cranky all the time). Some people don't mind commuting, or are so used to it that they think they don't mind, but for me and thousands of other people, commuting may make cents, but it doesn't make sense.

Photo by vgm8383

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What are Temp Agencies, and Why Should You Sign Up With One?

Do You Ever Feel Like You Just Can't Get Ahead?

You've probably noticed that I do a lot of little things to save money and to earn extra money. You might think that because of these actions, I'm able to get ahead financially. Sometimes that's true, but sometimes I feel like I have to make all those extra efforts just to break even. Here are some examples of recent experiences that have made me feel this way.

-I got a check in the mail for some articles I wrote for Investopedia. I also got my car insurance bill, which was for the exact same amount as my Investopedia check. Sigh.

-My apartment had to be fumigated, so I took my cats to a friend's house to save money instead of taking them to a kitty hotel. Turns out I (unintentionally) did not follow all of the pest control company's apartment preparation instructions, so my apartment didn't get sprayed. Now I have to take my cats to the kitty hotel after all, because on the long drive to my friend's house, I learned that one of my cats gets severe motion sickness, and I'm not about to put her through that again. I might also get stuck with the fumigation bill, since the pest control company is having to make a special second trip back to our building. I would find that particularly frustrating, since it was an honest mistake.

-I went to Old Navy to exchange a sweater. I didn't find another sweater I liked, but I did find a killer deal on a robe. I even finally remembered to use a 10% off coupon I'd been carrying around in my wallet for months. On my way home, I was all psyched about the extra $1.50 I saved with the coupon, and then I realized that I was refunded $3.50 less than I should have been for the sweater.

-I finally sold my old car and was happy that I would be able to save money on my car insurance now that I will only be insuring one car instead of two. No such luck! They tell me that my rate will actually go up because I will no longer qualify for a multi-vehicle discount. (I don't understand this at all--doesn't having fewer cars decrease my risk?)

-I went to Target specifically to save money on wrapping paper by shopping the day after Christmas. Everything was 50% off. I left half of my purchase at the store and wasn't able to retrieve it because of my schedule, completely voiding my savings and the time I spent shopping for bargains.

-My health insurance premium, which I pay for myself, got raised by a whopping 40% per month even though I file maybe one claim per year for a basic checkup. (How are they justifying this increase, and where is my universal health care?)

New-agey gurus like T. Harv Eker and Rhonda Byrne would say that by focusing on the negative, I'm only going to attract more money-losing events into my life. As hokey as I think it is to look in the mirror, point to my head, and say, "I have a millionaire mind!" multiple times a day (which I do not ever do, by the way), I agree with the basic premise. I'm better off focusing on positive financial events like getting a new writing assignment or saving $350 by being able to use frequent flyer miles to go on an upcoming trip.

The best way I've found to deal with annoying, unanticipated expenses like these is to do what I can to take charge of the situation instead of merely accepting things. I wrote a letter to Old Navy. I wrote a letter to my health insurance company asking for information on different plans with lower premiums. I started shopping around for car insurance to see if I could get a lower rate by switching companies. Maybe I'll be able to decrease my expenses this way, but if not, I'll just have to find another way to cut costs. Sometimes there is no good solution and I have to try not to waste my energy resenting the fact that my health insurance company is stealing money from me that could be going towards my future house down payment. I can feel a little better about situations like these knowing that I tried to find a way to turn things around. And, of course, sometimes the attempts to turn things around are successful, and what looked like a great annoyance ends up being a great opportunity.

Photo by Andriz

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How Temping Can Be a Rewarding Lifestyle Choice

Familiarity breeds contempt, or so the old saying goes. Stay at the same job for too long, and no matter how much you liked it to begin with or how many good qualities it has, eventually the good qualities can start to pale in comparison to your co-workers' quirks, your boss's procrastination, and those other annoying work problems that just won't go away. If grinning and bearing it isn't working for you anymore, working for a temp agency on a short or even long-term basis can be a great way to get the change of pace you need and see what else is out there.

If your current job is stressing you out and there's no end in sight, applying to several temp agencies will help secure another source of income and allow you to quit after someone has found you other work. This way, you won't have to take the financial risk of quitting without knowing where your next paycheck is coming from. In the meantime, you might be less likely to storm out of work in frustration one day if you know you've put a plan to move on into action.

Once you've escaped, you'll probably find that temping can be very relaxing compared to being a permanent employee. As someone new to a company, especially if you're only going to be there for a few days and aren't looking to get hired long-term, you'll probably have very little responsibility, which can be a very freeing feeling, especially if you had a lot of responsibility at your last job. Sometimes you'll be filling in for someone who is on vacation and you'll really only be there as an emergency backup, which will give you almost no work to do and plenty of time to catch up on your reading and hone your Free Cell skills -- or even search for longer-term employment if you so desire. It's true -- you really can get paid to do nothing. If your finances can support a bit of instability and possibly a pay cut, there's no reason to rush from temping back to a permanent, full-time job. Just enjoy the break while you experience different work environments, gain new skills (sometimes), and meet new people.

Temping has a different social aspect to it than permanent jobs. Most people at the company you're temping at will probably ignore you once they realize that you're not going to stick around, which makes it easy to retreat to your own little world each day. For better or worse, if you're at a larger company where people are used to not recognizing everyone in their office, you may not get so much as a hello from anyone. If you hate office gossip and like to keep your work life separate from your personal life, this setup can be ideal. On the other hand, if you're the type who loves to socialize, temping can be lonely, but given your personality, you'll probably be able to turn the experience into a great way to meet new people.

Temping allows a great deal of flexibility while generally still providing you with a livable income. As a temp, you can work only until you've saved up enough for your next vacation, then take off for two months to relax, travel, or write your novel. Getting time off for a doctor's appointment or your kid's school play is s snap, too. Though you won't be getting any paid vacation (unless you work under the same temp agency for a long time), you will be able to get large chunks of time off between assignments, which is something you'll be hard pressed to do at any regular job, especially if you haven't been working there for a long time.

If you want to go back to school part-time, sometimes it can be easier to work temp jobs into your schedule than a permanent part-time job, especially around times when you have lots of studying to do. If you've been in the work force for a while and are itching to head back to school full-time, you can always pick up a temp job here and there when your funds are running low or your workload is lighter. During the summer, you can acquire full-time temp jobs and save up for the next term.

If you are a jack-of-all-trades or a renaissance woman and sticking with the same job for too long drives you crazy, chances are you don't receive any benefits from the companies you work for or you have frequent gaps in your coverage. If you were to move from job to job under the umbrella of a temp agency, there is a good chance that you would eventually qualify for the temp agency's benefits. For most people, the benefits offered by temp agencies might as well not be there, because most people find full time positions and are out from under the temp agency's wings long before they ever reach the number of hours required to qualify for the agency's benefits. But as a permatemp, you can not only receive more consistent benefits, which gives you greater financial security, but often better benefits than some companies offer their full-time employees because most temp agencies are quite large. Temp agencies routinely offer health insurance, dental insurance, and 401k's. Full-time, permanent employees at smaller companies, on the other hand, often only get health insurance.

Of course, along with the reduced responsibility and commitment come a few drawbacks. Temping can be incredibly freeing, or it can be unbearably dull -- you'll often do menial work like filing, copying, or answering phones for hours on end. And while you'll often get to change assignments and therefore try out new office environments, different jobs, and different commutes, it can be stressful be an outsider in an office full of strangers and to not know where you're going or what your day will be like at the start of each new assignment.

On the other hand, when you're new to a company and don't know its procedures and policies, it's easier to get away with making mistakes. Your responsibilities will often be minimal because many companies seem to assume that temps aren't very bright, so if you want to keep your workload light, just don't disprove their initial assumptions. All those things you have to do when you're trying to hold down a permanent job, like going the extra mile, asking for more work, being on your best behavior, and putting up with nonsense generally aren't necessary to keep you employed as a temp. You also won't have to work overtime as a temp because you'll be getting paid hourly. Most companies are loathe to pay time and a half.

If you hate the creeping level of responsibility that comes with staying at the same job too long, need to keep your schedule open, love to travel, want to spend more time with your kids, hate overtime, or don't want to be tied down for any other reason at all, working through a temp agency can give you the flexibility you need to make your life more enjoyable and fulfilling.

Photo by Paul Worthington

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Watch TV Online For Free!

I used to be the proud non-owner of a television set. Where I lived, it was difficult to get a clear signal without paying for cable, and I don't believe in paying for things that are chock-full of advertising, so there was no way I was signing up for cable. Eventually, I got a cheap TV, a cheap DVD player, and a Blockbuster subscription, which was not only cheaper than subscribing to cable, but provided more interesting entertainment that was completely commercial-free and easy to turn off when what I wanted to watch was over.

These days, it's even easier than that to cut your television costs. If you haven't been keeping up with the trend, you may be surprised to learn just how many TV shows you can view online completely for free, sometimes even without commercials. In fact, many of the TV shows you'll pay $2 an episode for on iTunes can actually be viewed for nothing at other websites. Additionally, if you prefer the convenience of watching shows when you're in the mood and have the free time rather than when the TV station decides to air them, but you don't want to fork over the money for a Tivo box plus the monthly subscription fee, you'll also benefit from these websites.

Here are some of the best websites I've found for watching TV online. Though I've found others in the past through Google searches, these sites tended to be so unreliable that I can't even remember what they were called.

ABC: ABC's website has a couple of minor annoyances: you have to download their player, and if you're the type who always has ten browser tabs open at once, you'll find it annoying that in order for the show-watching page to actually load, you have to be actively viewing that page on your screen (weird, huh?). Most shows will have quite a few back episodes available for watching, but some will only have two or four at a time, so if you get too far behind, you're out of luck. Shows offered at include Lost, Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty, The Bachelor, and many more. They also have old episodes of My So-Called Life.

NBC: Watch shows like Heroes, Jay Leno, Conan, and my favorite, The Office. Unfortunately, I can't really comment on their player because I haven't been able to use it.

CBS: Watch CSI, Dexter, Survivor, Star Trek, Big Brother (that show is still on???) and more. I guess CBS isn't targeted to my demographic, because I don't watch a single one of their shows. I'll let you tell me what you think of their player.

In addition to full episodes of guilty pleasure shows like America's Next Top Model, Gossip Girl, and Beauty and the Geek, you'll also find shows like Supernatural and One Tree Hill. The CW's website also has lots of interesting extra video clips, like interviews with each show's actors.

Fox: Fox-on-Demand's show listings page is a nightmare: it has a scrolling wheel that rotates through all the available shows much more quickly than I can actually read them or click on them. However, if you can hang with their format, you'll be able to enjoy shows like K-Ville, The Simpsons, Prison Break, and Bones.

Fancast: Fancast is not the home of exclusive free content: many of its shows can be viewed on the networks' sites. If you have trouble with a particular site, though (I can't watch without crashing my computer), you'll be glad to know that there is more an one place to watch some shows for free. Fancast also gives you a venue for reminding yourself just how bad Melrose Place and other now-dated hits really were. You can see a complete list of shows available on Fancast here.

Online TV shows can also come in handy for hard-core TV addicts: even if you have a TV, cable, and Tivo, you might not be able to catch all the shows you want to watch due to overlapping scheduling. Of course, the quality is arguably better on TV, and if you have a small computer monitor or lack a comfy chair near your computer, then you might just prefer to watch your shows the old-fashioned way.

I kind of wish I could still say that I didn't watch TV, because it really does take up a lot of time. However, I've found that as my life has become more stressful and my responsibilities have increased, I enjoy having television shows as a way to zone out from everything else that's going on in my life.

Photo by midnight digital

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Investopedia Followup: Winning the Jackpot: Dream or Nightmare?

Can you afford to win an expensive prize? Many people don't realize that some prizes aren't free. Taxes and the ongoing costs of ownership can quickly turn some windfalls into major burdens.

This is just the introduction from my latest article over at Investopedia, which discusses the financial obligations that come with winning major prizes such as a house, a car, a vacation, gambling money, or the lottery. If you've ever fantasized about winning such a prize (or have stumbled across this post because you just won something and are trying to figure out how to deal with the taxes) check out Winning the Jackpot: Dream or Financial Nightmare?

Photo by Sophistechate

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Why I Didn't Reject Your Resume

Last week in Why I Rejected Your Resume, I wrote about the numerous unbelievable mistakes people made when applying for a job I posted online. This week, I'd like to go beyond just describing what things to avoid when applying for a job and talk about some active steps you can take to get your resume to the top of the hiring manager's pile. Here is a list of reasons why I didn't reject your resume.

1. You followed all the instructions in my job posting (which were very simple, but I wanted to make sure you were paying attention).
2. You wrote a cover letter that indicated that you have a personality and are not just another mindless office drone.
3. Your resume showed a varied work history (like farmer, accountant, photographer, and line cook) that indicated a unique individual with many interests--someone who would be interesting to work with. (I know, I know, your resume is supposed to show that you've worked in the same field with increasing responsibility since you were four, and it's not like that doesn't work most of the time, but it's not the only way to get a job.)
4. Your resume and cover letter had a clean, attractive layout.
5. Neither your resume nor your cover letter contained any typos.
6. You have at least a bachelor's degree.
7. The word "utilize" did not appear anywhere in your application.
8. You sent your resume and cover letter in PDF format, which looked so much more professional than sending it in Word--all the proper nouns in your resume didn't have that distracting red squiggly mark under them, and I saw the document's format exactly as you intended me to, not as Word randomly dictated. (Before you start moaning about the exorbitant cost of Adobe products, go to and get yourself a 100% free PDF creator program.)
9. Since you didn't know my identity, you used a gender-neutral introduction such as "Dear Hiring Manager" for your cover letter
10. You contacted me via a professional-looking email address and your real first name and last name showed up as the sender in my inbox.
11. Your resume and cover letter indicated a solid command of English grammar and style.

As you can see, it really isn't that difficult to set yourself apart from the crowd when applying for a job. Just put the kind of extra attention and care into your resume and cover letter that you want your potential employer to think you will put into your work for them each and every day, and you'll do fine. You still won't always get called in for an interview, of course, but you'll increase your chances dramatically.

Photo by Not Quite A Photographr

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The Ten Best Things You Can Do For Your Children's Financial Future

My parents played a major part in my financial education by teaching me many basic but crucial lessons. Whether you've never done these things or you've learned your lessons the hard way, let your kids benefit from your financial knowledge by passing on as much as you can from an early age. Repeat these lessons for your kids as often as you can so they'll stick.

Open savings accounts for your kids and make them a part of the saving process. If you're a kid, giving birthday and allowance money to your parents to put into your savings account is no fun if you never see that money again. Show your kids their monthly bank statements. Teach them how to read the statements and show them the interest they're earning. By making the process interactive, your kids will feel like they have more autonomy and responsibility, which will make saving more fun and appealing.

2. Teach both girls and boys about money and how to make it, save it, and invest it for themselves. In most families, the greater financial burden (if not all of it) still falls on the man, which means that it's easy for a girl to grow up feeling like money isn't something she needs to learn about. Even though I grew up always assuming that I would work, I also assumed for many years that it would be a man who would eventually bring me real financial security. It's not that I was a gold digger--it's that my dad was the main breadwinner and money manager in my house growing up. I never learned more than the bare bones of personal finance and I was never steered towards a lucrative profession. Once I acknowledged that I, and I alone, was responsible for my financial situation, with a little bit of initiative I was able to greatly increase my knowledge of personal finance and put that knowledge to work. Don't let your kids waste any time figuring out who is responsible for their financial futures.

3. Make them work for it. If your kids get an allowance, they shouldn't get it just for existing--they should contribute to the household in ways appropriate to their age (I'm pretty sure I was a skilled duster by age five). But make sure the reward is high enough to make the work worth it--even when you're flat broke, ten cents isn't a good incentive because you can't even come close to buying anything with it. It's also a good idea to separate the chores that can earn money from the ones that are required to contribute to the household. Basic tasks should be completed no matter what (if yours is a chore-doing household). Special jobs that go above and beyond everyday needs are good candidates for pay. In addition to not teaching your kids that all work should be compensated (because in the real world, no one pays you to vacuum your own living room), you'll also be encouraging them to think up creative ways to earn money and help others.

4. Help them with their homework, or find someone else who can. Teach your kids that an education is the best way to increase their earning potential (but don't make school all about money, of course). Not all parents have the educational background to help their kids with their math homework, but you can still teach them that school is a major priority by holding high standards for their achievement, finding them help when they need it, and participating in their school lives by attending awards ceremonies and attending parent-teacher conferences. If your work schedule prohibits these things, find other ways to be involved, like scheduling phone conferences with a teachers or sending cupcakes for class parties.

5. Don't buy them everything they want. If you do, when they're adults, they'll expect to have everything they want, which will either land them in debt or turn them into workaholics. Because my mom always made me pick my favorite few items when we went shopping for clothes, I still have the habit to this day--and I don't miss any of the stuff I didn't buy.

6. Teach them that if they don't have the money for it right now, they can't really afford it.
Repeat this phrase to your kids any time a relevant situation presents itself. When you're watching TV and you see an ad for a rent-to-own furniture store, tell your kids why this is a bad idea. When you see those catchy Mastercard ads, tell them that you're supposed to save up for special occasions, not charge them to your credit card. Also, be sure to explain to them what happens if you only make the minimum payment on your credit card each month and why you should always pay your balance in full before the due date.

7. Encourage them to get part-time/summer jobs. Getting that first job can be scary, so go with your child to the mall and have him ask for applications at all the stores he would consider working in (but don't go into the store with him). Or, if you're well-connected, set him up with some informational interviews that could lead to a summer job or internship in a corporate office. Help him fill out the applications, prepare for likely interview questions, and return the completed applications. A job will not only help your child learn the value of money, it will also make him eligible for an IRA and help prepare him for post-college life. Applying for jobs after school can be a lot less scary when you're already applied for and held down jobs in the past.

8. Help your children open IRA's the second they're eligible. To be eligible for an IRA, your child will need to have taxable compensation. Not only will you be giving your child a major head start with all those extra years of compound interest, you'll also be teaching her an invaluable skill: saving part of your income for the future.

9. Don't pressure them into getting a more expensive education than you or they can afford.While some graduates find student loan debt manageable, for others it's just like any other major debt--it stresses them out and limits their options. A solid education should actually decrease stress by broadening your child's options and lowering her likelihood of having financial problems. If school debt is unavoidable (to get an undergraduate education), do your best to minimize it and to make sure your child understands what to expect when it's time to repay the loans. If law school, med school, or an MBA are a part of the plan and you're not footing the bill, pressuring your child could land her under a huge mountain of debt and in a field that she hates and eventually decides to get out of, thus greatly reducing her ability to repay the loans and leaving her worse off then when she started.

10. Set a good example. If your kids don't see you following your own advice, they won't take your suggestions seriously and they won't learn the importance of managing money properly.

So many twenty and thity somethings (and even older adults) don't have their finances in order, but it doesn't have to be that way. By teaching your kids these fundamentals of personal finance, they'll be headed for a very bright future.

Photo by Photo Nathan

What are Temp Agencies, and Why Should You Sign Up With One?

Many people don't use temp agencies because they either don't know what temp agencies are or think they should be able to find a job on their own. In my experience, temp agencies are a great resource for simplifying your job search. They are particularly useful for students, recent grads, people who have just gotten started in their careers, and people who want to change jobs--that is, they can benefit almost anyone.

A temp agency is a company that helps match people seeking work with open positions at companies. They keep a running list of available positions along with a running list of available workers, and they quite often know about openings that are not known to the general public. When the agency finds a match, you'll get a phone call telling you about the job and asking if you're interested. Temp agencies offer temporary jobs, temp-to-hire jobs (where you'll work for a company on a trial basis with the possibility of securing a permanent position later on), and direct hire jobs (where you'll immediately be hired as a full-time employee).

If you're new in town, you probably won't have much of a network to help you in your job search. Temp agencies can be the contact you don't have. They've reviewed your resume, met you, interviewed you, and tested your basic skills, so when they introduce a company to you, you'll have the same kind of credibility you would otherwise get from having a contact at that company.

If you're currently employed but want to change jobs, it can be difficult to find the time to look around when you're already working 40+ hours a week. Letting a temp agency do the legwork for you will save you lots of time and energy.

If you're a college or even high school student, temp agencies can help you find more useful and significantly better paying work than you'll find at the mall. There are plenty of office jobs out there that don't require college degrees, and it's easy to find jobs that will fit with your summer vacation schedule. If you're new to the work force, whether you're a student, recent grad, or stay-at-home mom turned empty-nester, temp agencies can help you land a good job despite your limited resume.

No matter what your situation, signing up with a temp agency can be a great way to get your foot in the door at a company you would otherwise not have access to. As a temp, I've worked for a variety of companies including a law firm, a graphic design startup, a prominent commercial real estate company, and a major financial services company. I would not have had the credentials to get jobs at any of these companies, nor would I have known that they had openings, without going through a temp agency.

Though I went into these companies as a temporary worker getting paid $12 an hour to do menial tasks like filing, each of these companies wanted to hire me full-time after they were able to observe my work ethic and intellect firsthand. Some companies offered me lowly starting positions that had plenty of room to grow; others offered me lowly starting positions that were dead ends; and others offered me surprisingly substantial positions that had nothing to do with filing or making copies. A temp agency will not necessarily be able to get you both an ideal job and an ideal company, but they can probably get you started with one or the other, which will make it a lot easier for you to make the other half of the picture fall into place later on.

If you are further along in your career or have significant financial obligations, a temp agency may not offer the kinds of positions or pay you're likely to be seeking. In this case, you'll be better off finding a recruiter (also known as a headhunter) if you're looking for a new full-time job. However, if you'd like to test the waters in a few different fields before committing to another full-time position and if you have some financial breathing room, it may make sense to sign up with a temp agency and take a lesser position for a while in order to work in different environments. Particularly if you are a woman, no one is likely to bat an eye at your doing secretarial work no matter what your age (sad, but true). If you're a man, cultural biases may complicate your situation a bit, but a good temp agency will be able to help.

Finding a temp agency is as simple as doing an online search or opening a phone book. Some of the big names in the industry include Kelly Services, AppleOne, Venturi Staffing Partners, Snelling Staffing Services, Randstad, and Robert Half (which owns lots of other specialized agencies that operate under different names). If you're a creative type, make sure to check out The Creative Group, which is specifically geared towards finding work for people with visual, writing, and other creative skills. Even if you've never heard of any of these companies and have no experience with temping, don't worry: it's pretty easy to differentiate a good temp agency from a bad one by their fees. The company that the temp agency is assisting ALWAYS pays the fees for finding you. A legitimate temp agency will NEVER ask you for money. If they do, they're trying to scam you, and you should run away from them no matter how desperate you are for a new job.

If the company you want to work for has to pay the temp agency a fee for finding you, won't that eat into your earnings? It's hard to say for sure, but in my experience, temp agencies often receive a percentage of your pay as their compensation, which means that it's in their best interest to get you as high of a salary as possible. That's right -- when you go through a temp agency, they, not you, will generally be in charge of negotiating your salary or hourly wage, which can make your job hunt a lot less stressful. If you consider yourself a master negotiator or don't trust your temp agency, you may be able to negotiate your own salary in a direct hire situation. Some agencies will receive a flat fee for finding you, which may mean you're own your own to negotiate a decent salary. In that case, your salary is more likely to suffer as a result of the temp agency's fee.

If you're an hourly employee (which you will be in temporary and temp-to-hire situations), the company you work for will pay the temp agency several dollars an hour above what the temp agency will pay you. This can be frustrating and seem unfair when the company is paying $18 an hour for you and you're only taking home $12 minus taxes, but the truth is that the wage you'll actually take home will probably be the same fair market wage that you'd get paid if you found the same job independent of the temp agency.

If you are a temporary or temp-to-hire employee, you will likely go straight to work for the new company without any interview or wage negotiation (but you'll know the pay before you accept the position). If you are a direct hire candidate, you'll interview with the company beforehand. The temp agency will always interview you before sending you off to any client -- they have a reputation to protect. It's also common for them to give you some simple tests to make sure you can do basic math, spell, alphabetize, and type.

If one temp agency tells you that they won't be able to get you the position or pay that you want, just move on to the next (if you start noticing a pattern, though, your expectations are probably unrealistic). Though you technically work for the temp agency, they really work for you -- if they can't find work for you, they don't get paid, so don't settle for less than you deserve.

There are a few downsides, of course. One obvious drawback of seeking employment through temp agencies is that many of the jobs offered are, as the name suggests, temporary. You may work steadily for several weeks, then mysteriously not be able to find any work for several weeks. If you tend to live from paycheck to paycheck or really need a steady income, temping may not be for you. You're also likely to end up doing a lot of dull, menial work, and you'll have to frequently adjust to new work environments. Temporary assignments can range in length from one day to several months, so you may or may not have the chance to get cozy somewhere.

To increase your odds of having steady work and getting assignments you enjoy, I recommend signing up with multiple temp agencies. Going for all those interviews and taking all those typing tests can be a pain, but it's worth the extra effort to have five people looking for your next job instead of just one. That being said, if you turn down too many offers with the same agency, they're likely to stop calling you. Be as selective as you can afford to be when choosing whether to accept a particular assignment or not, but be aware of the potential consequences.

Temp agencies are a very efficient means to getting a new or better job. In an age where time is money, temp agencies are able to save time you would normally spend searching job listings and sending out resumes, and they are likely to get you competitive wages to boot. If you’ve in the market for a job and have never used a temp agency, I can’t recommend it enough.

If you're found this article helpful, stay tuned for my upcoming posts on how temping can benefit you financially and how temping can be a rewarding lifestyle choice.

Photo by telwink

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