Teach Your Partner About Household Finances

If you're reading this, chances are the person who manages the finances in your household is you. But even if your significant other isn't very good at it or is happy to let you handle everything, it's best if both people are aware of key accounts and how to access them, especially to be prepared for an emergency. My Investopedia article, Teaching Your Partner About Household Finances, will show you how to get another person up-to-speed on this important topic.

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Why I Don't Care that I May Have Overpaid for My House

I may have overpaid for my house. This is pretty surprising behavior, coming from someone who routinely gets strange looks at the grocery store for doing things like stocking up on twelve-packs of soda when they're on sale for $2.00. So why on earth would I blow off how I could have gotten a house for a lot less money? Well, there's a lot more to buying a house than looking at the price tag.

1. I had to move (sort of). Making the decision to buy a house when you are in a situation where you have to move is never ideal, but it's a situation many people find themselves in. While I technically did not have to move, as I could have continued living in an apartment where my rent was unceremoniosly increased every month, my privacy was repeatedly invaded, the building-wide fire alarm went off at least once a month, I did not feel safe, and roaches were taking over ever inch of my living space, I had reached a breaking point where I no longer felt able to live under those conditions or risk living under similar conditions in another apartment, as most of the apartments I'd lived in had considerable issues with some combination of noise, maintenance, pests, and safety. For the sake of my sanity, and perhaps my safety, I needed a dramatic improvement in quality of life. So I "had to" move and I "had to" buy a house (condo living just seemed like a worse form of apartment living to me, with higher stakes and decreased mobility).

2. There were very few options in my price range. After I started house hunting, I quickly realized that the amount I had set out to pay for a house wasn't an option. At best, it might be an okay amount to spend in the short-term, but I knew it would be a poor decision in the long term. I learned that I was going to have to find a way to spend considerably more unless I wanted to live on a very busy street, in an unsafe neighborhood, or in a very run-down house. In the short run, some of these tradeoffs might have seemed acceptable, but since one of the major reasons I was moving was to improve my quality of life and since I wanted to at least have the option of living in the same house for the rest of my life, I decided to take a more long-term view and stretch my budget to get a nicer place.

3. I know I can make up for part of the cost by paying off my mortgage early, refinancing at a lower interest rate, or selling at a profit someday. Yes, I could also do these things with a less expensive home, saving myself even more money, but at least there are ways to decrease the total cost of this home, should I choose to take advantage of them.

4. Without overpaying, I wouldn't have gotten this house. My boyfriend and I only looked at 13 houses because there were so few options in our bottom-of-the-market price range, but we felt and still feel that this was the one and only right house for us (on the market and in our price range, that is), and we have continued to feel this way even after continuing to look at listings for other homes that have come on the market in our area in the months following our purchase. We bought a foreclosure, and at the bottom of the market, houses were being snatched up in no time at all. We acted quickly and put in an offer slightly over the bank's asking price, rather than underbidding by several thousand as our very experience agent suggested because he felt the house was overpriced. But the bank accepted our offer almost immediately, and on a weekend, no less. We could have offered less, but we didn't feel that the risk of ending up in a lesser house or continuing to rent was worth the possibility of saving this money. We knew that in our price range, we had come across a uniquely nice foreclosure, and that we wouldn't be the only people to notice those things.

5. I wanted someone else to pay for my closing costs. One of the things I was long dreading about buying a house was dealing with the ripoff of closing costs. Books and articles (including articles I've written) will tell you that many closing costs are negotiable and that if you present yourself as a savvy consumer and stand firm, you can get many of them waived. Well, I wasn't able to get some of my bogus closing costs waived, and I had a sense that might be the case. Rather than stressing out over every penny (or, as the case was, every hundred dollars), I wanted the seller to pay my closing costs. I also wanted to reduce the amount of cash I needed to come up with at the outset, since the foreclosure needed some work to be a pleasant place to live. I knew that asking for thousands of dollars in closing costs would be a lot more likely to go over if I put in an attractive offer on the house. And I did get my closing costs paid. I only had to come up with the down payment.

6. Sometimes money does buy happiness. I have, in fact, been much happier since I moved out of the apartment and into the house. At the rate the apartment situation was deteriorating, with the constant rent increases and burgeoning roach population, I am extremely grateful to have spent the last nine months living in a clean, safe environment where (so far) the monthly payments have been the same every month. Though it has cost me much, much more to live in this house than it would have cost me to continue living in the apartment, and my disposable income has decreased dramatically, it has been worth it.

7. I had to consider someone else's wishes. If I were still single (and, let's pretend, for the sake of argument, that I could afford to buy a house on my income alone), I would have chosen to move to another apartment and wait for the absolute perfect house to come along (the one I bought, though the best available, is not absolutely perfect). But my boyfriend did not want to move twice. And it wasn't just that he casually didn't want to move twice--he vehemently didn't want to move twice. There are not a lot of things that my boyfriend insists on. He is extremely easy to get along with. So the fact that this was so important to him was something I felt I had to take seriously. Some people really hate moving. I am not one of them, because I don't have a lot of stuff and I like the change of scenery, but I get it. Moving takes a lot more time and effort than what happens on the moving day itself. It involves searching for a new place to live, hours of packing and unpacking, going through everything you own, living out of boxes, physical pain, and spending money on things you need for the new place that you didn't need for the old place. In our case, it also meant getting skittish kitties used to a new environment. Why go through all of that twice if you don't have to?

8. My home is my favorite place to be. I don't really mind being house-poor for the time being because my home is my favorite place to be. It is quiet, peaceful, and decorated exactly the way I want within the confines of my budget. I haven't really missed not being able to buy what is ultimately random junk (do I really need a fourth iPod?) and I have survived not going out to eat three times a week and taking fewer trips. I may be spending a lot of money, but at least I enjoy and appreciate what I'm spending on, and the thing I am spending it on will last a lot longer than the many trivial items I might have purchased otherwise.

Closing Thoughts

Don't get me wrong--I'm not advocating stretching your budget to buy the nicest place you could hope to live in. If you don't have to go to the top of your price range to buy a house you will be content with, please don't. There's no reason to create unnecessary financial pressure in your life.

But buying a house, like most purchases, is not just a financial decision, it's also an emotional one. Sometimes it just doesn't make sense to overlook the emotional aspects of a purchasing decision, even if it means spending more money.

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Making Home Ownership Affordable

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Post by Amy Fontinelle

My Biggest Banking Pet Peeve: Teller Indiscretion is Okay?

When it comes to banking, there is nothing I hate more then cashing a check. Why? Because the tellers count out your money as if there is zero chance that someone nearby can see or hear what is going on, which is not the case at all.

I used to have to cash petty cash checks for work, and the checks were for about $1,500. The tellers would count out the money for all nearby to see and hear. I always felt nervous walking away from the transaction, going to the parking lot, getting into my car, and driving back to work. I was afraid someone would try to mug me in the parking lot or even follow me in my car to mug me later. I felt like a walking target. I had the same problem when I withdrew a large sum of cash from my account to purchase a used car.

Why do bank tellers insist on counting money for customers indiscreetly? There is no need to lay out the bills on top of the counter, count them loudly, then hand them over to me sans envelope (even when I ask and provide the envelope, I might add). The fact that most banks I visit do not have any sort of glass separating the tellers from the customers makes this lack of discretion even worse. I know that tellers deal with so much money that it probably seems like no big deal to them, but it is a big deal to me.
If you work at a bank, I would love to hear your take on this. And if you have similar feelings about this practice or suggestions on how to deal with it, please tell me.

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Post by Amy Fontinelle

8 Countries Hit Hardest by the Global Financial Crisis

This guest post is written by Linda McCormick.

(If you would like to write a guest post for Two Pennies Earned, please email me at alfontin [gmail]).

From time to time throughout history, surprising events have occurred that have left a wake of devastation in their paths. The recent financial crisis has been one of these events. Only a handful of people knew of the potentially negative consequences of their actions, but this didn't stop them, and no one could predict the butterfly effect that would ensue.

Very few countries have escaped being marred by the collapse of the financial markets, and while it's easy to become complacent by the current state of the global economy, it's important to bear in mind how badly some countries have been affected. Not surprisingly, some of the worst-hit countries were those already struggling to keep their heads above water, but hard hit, too, were countries that have long been the bastions of the financial world. The following countries suffered the worst effects of the global financial meltdown.

1. Iceland

People knew there was something really wrong when it was revealed that Iceland was bankrupt. A national government reporting bankruptcy is not something you hear every day, and it made the impact of the financial situation hit home. Iceland found it impossible to pay back its external debts. It basically devalued its currency, the krona, which led to the country not being able to afford any imports. What was more alarming, Iceland had become a major financial intermediary, with many corporate and personal bankers securing funds in accounts abroad--accounts that effectively disappeared in the bankruptcy, leaving many businesses in limbo.

2. Pakistan

A recent report by UNICEF states the financial crisis has had a direct and devastating effect on the already-impoverished population of Pakistan. A doctor working in Karachi, Dr. Noreen Anwar, believes that there has been a whopping 30 percent increase in the number of malnourished children in the country. Even before the crisis, 38 percent of children were moderately or severely underweight and families were finding it extremely difficult to survive. Food prices have soared, with basic ingredients like flour now triple the price of what it was last year, making it completely unaffordable. Families who were already struggling now consume worse food, have to eat less frequently, and have been forced to pull their children out of school to send them to work to raise enough money to live. It doesn't help either that the country seems to be in constant conflict, resulting in over two million people having to leave their homes and live in squalid refugee camps.

Of course, many other Asian countries have been badly affected by the collapse of the markets in the west, and may not have been hit so hard had the fall not been so abrupt. Few had appropriate measures in place to deal with such a blow to their economies, yet the Asian Development Bank predicts Asia will be one of the first to emerge from recession.

3. Brazil

Following a decade of rapid growth, many Latin American countries have been hard hit by the crisis, especially Brazil. The country had grown to be the world's tenth biggest economy, with a record $218 billion in foreign reserves. Since the financial bust, Brazil's once high-riding currency has lost 53 percent of its value against the dollar, and, along with Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, has seen billions wiped off share values. But it is the sharp drop in demand for commodities and exports that is affecting the country so badly.

4. Ireland

Only a few years ago, Ireland was regaling economic boom times. Industries were growing, people were moving there in droves (especially Eastern Europeans looking for a better life), and times were good--expensive, but good. Now it's a totally different story. As of September 2008, Ireland has officially been in a recession. The property bubble has burst, construction has ground to a halt, and unemployment figures are the highest since records began in 1967, with no evident slow in decline. Many immigrant workers are heading home and the Irish are once again forced to look for work overseas, as they have done so many times before. And, to add insult to injury, the government has recently introduced more taxes, disguised as levies, which have reduced the average worker's take home-pay, making living even harder.

5. South Africa

A number of African countries have been finding times very tough. Significant cuts in exports and a steep decline in commodity prices have seen many of the country's mines and factories shut down or downsized. It doesn't help that governments have devalued their currencies to such an extent that very few can afford to buy everyday goods.

In South Africa, where a large proportion of the world's diamonds are excavated, many miners have been given extended leave by diamond giant DeBeers, resulting in a 30 percent drop in diamond prices (so if you're about to pop the question, now's a good time to get a good deal). This has also affected Botswana's diamond industry, where it accounts for 70 to 80 percent of export earnings.

6. Zambia

In Zambia, a country that depends on its mineral wealth, copper prices have plummeted dramatically, and with nothing else to bolster its economy, the government is panicked. But unlike many Western countries, where the governments have come to the aid of businesses and banks, the opposite is being recommended in Africa. Many believe this would be a waste of public funds and would possibly only result in further corruption.

7. The United Kingdom

The UK is still reeling from the effects of the financial meltdown. When looking at the losses in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), the country was hit harder than most. Racking up the biggest losses in the world--£20 billion, or 3 percent of GDP, Britain's economy shrank this year at its fastest since records began in 1955. This is related to both the subprime crash in the U.S. and a long period of unchecked lending in the UK. It is now incredibly difficult for UK residents to get any form of credit, including mortgages. Banks are increasing fees in an effort to recoup some of their losses, and unemployment is at its highest since the 1980s.

8. United Arab Emirates

Until recently, Dubai, the most populous city of the seven emirates, seemed to be growing at a ridiculous speed, with new structures being erected at a rate of knots. Media companies moved to the city, and new businesses relocated to the boom town. Today, the construction sites are almost at a standstill, unemployment is rising, and retail stores are displaying “80% off” discount signs on their windows--signs which aren't so good for the city, or the country. But then, many people were wondering how long the gold rush would last in Dubai. How elaborate could a desert seaside town become before the overindulgent spending was stopped in its tracks? Dubai, unwittingly, has become a perfect miniature example of the global economy today.

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Two Pennies Earned Selected for Best of Money Roundup Top Ten

Of the 70 submissions for this week's Best of Money Roundup at All Financial Matters, one of the top personal finance blogs, my article, What College Doesn't Teach You About the Real World, was selected as number 6 out of only 10 published submissions.

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Teaching Kids About Investing

My latest Financial Edge article for Investopedia is about teaching your kids about investing.

I don't have kids, but I do have parents who were good enough to never treat me like I was too young or too stupid to understand financial concepts. I must have been ten years old when my dad told me that most of your mortgage payments for the first several years go toward interest and that you don't really pay for the house itself until the final years of the mortgage.

There are a few things they didn't do for me that I wish they had, like have me open an IRA when I was 16, and now that I am older and know better, those experiences also play into my recommendations for teaching kids about investing. Check out my article over at Investopedia for some pointers on some of the most important lessons you can teach your kids about investing.

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Post by Amy Fontinelle

Post by Amy Fontinelle

6 Considerations Before Accepting Your First Job

Knowing what to do when you first graduate isn’t easy. There’s so much at stake: paying off student loans, choosing a geographic location you’ll enjoy, starting your career off on the right foot—how do you know what jobs to spend your time and energy applying for, when to accept an offer, and when to keep looking? In this article, we’ll give you a few pointers culled from the clarity of hindsight.

Don’t take a job doing something you don’t enjoy: Sometimes a paycheck is just a paycheck, and that’s fine. The problem with taking a job doing something you don’t enjoy is that it can have long-term consequences. Your resume will start to reflect this activity and future potential employers will want to pigeonhole you into that job, making it even more difficult for you to get the kind of job you really want.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that it’s temporary: Many “temporary” jobs that you take just to make money start to become comfortable and not-so-temporary. You can get stuck in this rut for years—years that could have been spent pursuing what you really want to be doing. If you want to be a writer, don’t be a bookkeeper—or at least find a way to write regularly in your spare time.

Think about how this job will help you get your next job: No matter where you work and no matter how much you love or hate your job, you don’t be there forever. Even before you accept a job, you should be thinking about how it will help you get your next job. Will it give you things to put on your resume that will make you a strong candidate for a job you’ll enjoy in the future? Will it help you advance your career? Or will it get you stuck in a rut?

Think about taking a low-paying, idealistic job right out of college: If you’re interested in options like Teach for America or AmeriCorps, sign up for them now — don’t tell yourself you’ll do it later. Once you take a regular job that gives you plenty of disposable income, it’s hard to give up the comfort.

Money seduces: It’s a fact of life. At some point you will likely be offered employment that pays you more than what your dream job will pay. You will likely justify taking the job because the extra money will outweigh the compromise of putting off your dream job and you may assume it will even help you to pursue your dream job in your spare time. For all but the most strong-willed and energetic people, this is a false justification that will only serve to make you lose sight of what you really want to do with your life. Be very careful of the seduction of a higher paying job because once you accept it, your lifestyle will creep upward, it will be difficult to leave that cushy paycheck.

Take the highest paying job you can get after college: On the other hand, you might want to take the highest-paying job as you can get right away to get a jump start on saving for retirement, a house, travel, starting your own business, or any other goals that are important to you. When you’re fresh out of school, you’re less likely to be burned out on work, and you may be more able to put in the kind of energy and hours that are generally required to make a high income. But consider whether taking a job like this is likely to throw you into a rat race that you don’t want to be part of. Only you can answer this question honestly.

Don’t take a job with people who won’t respect you It’s one thing to be bored or even headed in the wrong direction, but being mistreated is a whole different ballgame. You’ll often be able to get an inkling of how a prospective employer will treat you before you accept a job — maybe it’s a vibe you got from your potential future boss in the interview, the incredibly low salary you were offered, or something the receptionist said as you were leaving. That nagging feeling in your gut that this isn’t the right job will usually be right — don’t think you have to stick around and find out. Working in an environment where you feel beaten down and disrespected will not only affect your job performance, it will affect your happiness, your health, and your relationships.

If you’re having trouble deciding whether to take a particular job, think about whether you’d want your best friend to accept it. Sometimes we have an easier time looking out for the best interests of our loved ones than of ourselves. Most importantly, don’t give up—it takes some people longer than others, but the right first job for you is out there.

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Post by Amy Fontinelle

How to Make Money Using Social Networking Sites Like Facebook and Twitter

In my latest Financial Edge article for Investopedia, Make Money with Social Networking Sites, I talk about ways social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter can help you make money. You could try developing a Facebook application (which has been immensely profitable for the owners of Zynga), using Facebook marketplace, or gaining customer goodwill through Twitter, for example. Here are a couple of other options:

Advertise. Advertising on Facebook gets you access to 250 million active users. You can advertise your own website or a Facebook page, application, group, or event related to your company. Facebook offers advertisers two types of ads: pay per click and pay per impression, and you can set a maximum budget for how much you’re willing to spend per day. You can also choose to target your ads by information Facebook users have provided about themselves, including location, age, sex, educational background, and relationship status.

Promote your work. If you already promote yourself or earn income through blogging, expand your audience by using Facebook to automatically import your blog posts and display them in your news feed. Likewise, you can use Twitter to inform people of your recent accomplishments and post links to articles you’ve written, videos you’ve produced, websites you’ve designed, and so on. Twitter and Facebook are also great ways to let people know about an event your company is hosting or sponsoring.

For the rest of my ideas, read Make Money with Social Networking Sites.

Also be sure to check out Cheap Tweets: Follow-Worthy Deals on Twitter.

You can also follow me on Twitter.

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Replacing Financial Fantasies with Financial Realities

In my Investopedia article, 4 Fatal Financial Fantasies, I write about some of the common dreams some people have about money that are likely to do them more harm than good, such as receiving a large inheritance or winning the lottery, and how they can replace those myths with actions that can actually help them improve their financial situations, like starting a business or learning how to invest. Here are two more examples that I didn't have room for in the article:

Myth: I’ll find undervalued items and resell them on eBay. The truth is that the popularity of eBay has driven down the price of many once-valuable collectibles, antiques, and designer items, and the website’s ease of use has added more sellers to the market. That means more people scouring garage sales, thrift stores, and seemingly underpriced eBay auctions in the hope of picking up cheap loot to resell. It’s not that you can’t make good money doing this—there are people who make a living doing it. But if you don’t already have a background in the subject, you’re likely to waste lots of money buying the wrong things and lots of time trying to sell them. And if you’re not passionate about the items you're selling, or about selling things in general, you’ll probably get bored. For most people, there are better ways to make money. (Personally, I tried this out for a few months and, while the thrill of a good sale was exciting for a while and I seemed to have some great beginner's luck, ultimately I felt like it was a waste of time since I ended up averaging only about $6 an hour doing it.)

Reality: I’ll live below my means. Instead of scrounging for supplemental income in piles of garage sale castoffs, why not look for ways to reduce your expenses? This can be a more effective way to put more money in your pocket than making more money because any additional money you earn will be taxed at your marginal rate. In other words, if you want to end up with an extra $100 at the end of the month, you have two choices: earn an extra $200, or decrease your spending by $100 (these numbers are simplified, but you get the idea). For many people, the latter is an easier option.

Another option is to look around your own home for stuff to resell--it's a lot faster than rummaging around garage sales and thrift stores looking for other people's stuff to sell, and there are no startup costs. This exercise might also make you more aware of how much stuff you've bought that you shouldn't have wasted your money on and help guide you toward more thoughtful purchasing decisions in the future.

For the rest of my ideas, read 4 Fatal Financial Fantasies over at Investopedia. Also check out my many other posts on trying to make decent money via eBay:
Experiment: Turning a Profit on Ebay
Self Employment via eBay
Self Employment via Ebay: Update
Self Employment via eBay: Yet Another Update

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Post by Amy Fontinelle

You May Not Have to Be Married to Save on Auto Insurance

Did you know that you may not have to be married to your significant other to get a multiple car discount on auto insurance? I had no idea.

My boyfriend and I own a home together. We are both on the title. I recently switched him to my auto insurance company to save money, and they asked if we wanted to be on the same policy. What?

We use a small, local insurance company--I don't know if the big-name companies do this. But if you live with your significant other, ask your insurance company if you can both be on the same policy, even if you aren't married. This will qualify you for a multiple car discount, which means that you may both be able to save money on your auto insurance premiums.

In fact, now that I think about it, there may be other circumstances where you can join forces with someone else to share insurance. I'm not sure how this works, though, and you'd need to be willing to have a financial relationship with this person, which can be complicated. You'd also need to have some faith in their level of driving skill and responsibility, since their rates, if they file a claim, will affect yours.

Before deciding to be on the same auto insurance policy, there are a few things you and your significant other should consider:

-You will have to have identical coverage amounts. If one of you currently has higher coverage than the other and you opt to both have the same policy, you will need to agree on coverage amounts. When the person with lower coverage increases their coverage, you may not end up with a lower premium overall. However, the person who had lower coverage may now have better coverage at little to no extra cost. In our case, we were able to get better coverage and still save hundreds of dollars.

-If you want to share cars, it's probably better to share insurance. If you get pulled over and you're driving the vehicle of someone you have no obvious connection to, I suspect it could cause a major hassle. How would the police officer know you weren't driving a stolen vehicle? If the name of the person the vehicle is registered to also appears on your insurance card, on the other hand, you shouldn't have any trouble. (Note: I have not consulted any law enforcement officers on this topic, so take my opinion with a grain of salt, but it just seems like common sense that things would work this way.)

-What are your driving records like? If one person has a poorer driving record than the other, will this cause both parties to pay a higher premium? Or, if one person has a better driving record than the other, will this help compensate for the poorer driver, effectively lowering the premium of the poorer driver?

-The policy may have to be in only one partner's name, with the other partner as an additional insured. I'm not sure what the implications of this are, but I don't think it matters--the important thing seems to be that everyone is insured, at least in my household's case.

-Combining policies is probably a bad idea if you haven't already combined your finances. If one person files a claim, a rate increase will affect both of you. Also, unless you drive identical vehicles, have identical driving histories, and drive a similar number of miles per year, your insurance rates will be different. If you don't already share finances, you will have to come up with a formula for sharing the insurance premium fairly, which may be complicated.

This isn't the first time I have been surprised to learn that I could be on the same policy as my boyfriend even though we aren't yet married. I was also able to get on his company dental insurance plan since I qualified as a domestic partner after having lived with him for six months (and have the option of being on his health and vision plans, too, though I choose not to). Perhaps recent advances in gay rights are starting to benefit others as well? I'm all for it, since getting married seems to be a giant losing proposition in terms of finances. But that's a subject for another post.

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Post by Amy Fontinelle

What College Doesn’t Teach You about the Real World

For all the time and expense involved and for all the talk about how a college degree will help you land a job and make a higher salary, there sure are a lot of important things that many college curricula don’t teach you about how to excel in the working world. Here are a few unpleasant truths that many college students find themselves discovering once they’ve landed their first real jobs.

Many jobs do not require nearly as much intelligent thought as school does: This can be a huge letdown. Finding a job that challenges you intellectually will be something you have to fight to find, as it will not be handed to you. This often will mean expanding your own job description or looking for something new. Taking initiative is a key component of having a job that’s not boring.
Getting called on in class and being graded is nothing like being told what to do for eight hours every day: In school, you are largely free to make your own decisions about how to use your time. While you are generally expected to show up for class and complete assignments by their deadlines, the only person who is ultimately affected by whether you do these things or not is you, so no one (except maybe your parents) will breathe down your neck to get them done.
In the work world, your boss, whose boss is breathing down his neck, or your clients whose money is at stake, will put pressure on you to complete your work when they want it done (usually yesterday), not when you feel like doing it.
When you’re used to moving around all day, sitting at a desk for eight hours can be absolutely mind-numbing and even physically painful: In college, you at least have to get up to walk from one class to the other every hour or so. You may even have breaks between classes and fun activities built into your day, like sports or music lessons. The frequent change of scenery and stimulation probably do a lot more to prevent you from being bored stiff than you realize.
Sitting in the same desk and focusing on the same subject day after day for hours on end with only lunch, bathroom, and coffee breaks is probably a lot more monotonous than what you’re used to, even if your job has some variety built in. You may even find yourself sore from so much sitting in front of a computer.
Work doesn’t change as often as school does: In high school, you change classes once a year (sometimes once a semester), and in college, you change classes once a semester (at some schools, once a quarter). At work, you’ll often do the same work year after year, surrounded by the same people. While you’re likely to get very efficient at these repetitive tasks and very comfortable with these people, you may not get the stimulation you’re used to. Keeping life interesting by taking the occasional class, learning a new skill, meeting new people, or reading a good book becomes your own responsibility.
They usually don’t teach you basic job skills in college: Learn how to send a fax and make a long distance phone call from a land line before you get to your first job. Skills like these are incredibly basic to the work force. You’ll be expected to know how to do them; no one will teach you. You’ll waste a lot of time and look foolish if you don’t come to work already knowing how. If you want to try to bluff your way through it, try asking a co-worker, “How does this particular fax machine work? It’s a different brand from the one I’m used to using.”
Being good at studying doesn’t mean you will be good at working: The skills that you need to excel in school are not always the same skills you need to excel in the workforce. The ability to think critically and adhere to deadlines will certainly continue to serve you well, but many of the skills that you learn outside the classroom will be much more important than the knowledge that you gained inside it.
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Post by Amy Fontinelle

Garden Harvest Update: Does Gardening Pay Off? Part 2

There's nothing like growing a large vegetable garden in your backyard to make you appreciate division of labor and the technological advances that make it so easy to go to the grocery store to purchase produce.

Gardening is incredibly time consuming. Yes, to some extent, if you plant things in good soil in a sunny spot and give them enough water, they will flourish with minimal effort. But it's really much more complicated than that. Plants get diseases. They get attacked by sucking insects and chewing insects. They get scorched from too much sun. They droop from underwatering, and turn yellow from overwatering. The flowers fall off before the plant can set fruit. The fruit forms, but starts to rot on the vine. Caterpillars bore holes in your tomatoes. Cheap tomato cages can break under the weight of heavy tomaotes and threaten to tear down the whole plant. Weeds grow like crazy and seem impossible to get rid of.

Paying enough attention to notice these problems, researching them to learn what they are and how to solve them, buying the right products to treat them, and spending the time to tend to them are all very time consuming. I could easily spend an hour a day just tending to my vegetable garden. But I can't, because between work, household chores, and taking care of the rest of my yard, there isn't time.

A few hours a week to grow a few pounds of produce, which also takes a lot of time to wash, cut, and cook, plus the money you spend on all the tools and fertilizers and watering, is just crazy compared to the effort it takes to go to the grocery store. And while the quality of produce is often better, I can get produce that tastes like I grew it in my backyard at the farmers market.

If you're thinking about growing a garden just to save money, I stand by my original assertion--it's not worth it. While I have come out ahead financially on my garden in terms of materials (this year!), I defintely have not in terms of time, considering that I work for myself and could have spent all those gardening hours writing, editing, or marketing. The rewards of gardening are not financial, unless you have nothing better to do and a bright green thumb.

What I have gained from gardening is mainly a satisfaction of a curiosity I didn't know I had. I like to learn new things, and it has been very satisfying to learn what my produce looks like when it grows. It amazes me that I have eaten certain things my whole life without having the slightest clue how they were produced. I didn't know what zucchini plants or pepper plants looked like. I had no idea that so many things we eat grew out of flowers. I didn't know that tomatoes develop their full size while green, then ripen. I didn't know that I could pick a green tomato and it would ripen on my counter (or that that's how supermarket tomatoes get their lack of flavor). I didn't know that all peppers turn red when left on the vine--there is nothing particularly special about red bell peppers. I didn't know that all that foliage on the plants is to prevent the fruits from getting scorched. Gardening would be a particularly good activity to do with kids, I think.

I also didn't know that I was capable of growing things. All my container gardening failures as an apartment renter had nearly convinced me that I had a black thumb, but it turns out that the knowledge I gained from those failures, combined with having good land and lots of sun for the first time, allowed me to have a pretty successful garden this year.

I will be scaling back severely next summer so that gardening is not a time-sucking chore. I am going to focus on the produe that has the highest reward: tomatoes. They are easy to grow and taste particularly delicious straight off the vine. I don't get sick of them, and even in season they are not particularly cheap at the store or farmers market. They are also highly perishable, which means many trips to the store if you want to have fresh tomatoes every day, and I don't like to make many trips to the store.

Stay tuned for part three of this series, coming whenever all my plants stop producing and I finally tear them out of the ground. I will let you know the total amount I invested in my garden, what grew well and what didn't, how many pounds of produce I harvested, how much of a return on investment I got in terms of materials, and how I will decrease my costs next year.

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My New Couch, Six Months Later

So I actually wrote my recent post about buying a new couch six months ago and forgot to publish it. I thought I'd follow up with some thoughts on that couch now that I've owned it for a while.

Color: First of all, when the couch was finally ready, which took the whole six weeks, it was not the color I remembered it being in the store. I think it is more likely that I did not remember the color correctly than that there was a mistake or I was duped. Still, I was disappointed, though I tried to pretend like I was not since I had spent so much money on the thing. I am never going to love the color of this couch, though. It is a very uninspired beige. I was remembering it as a creamier color (maybe just wishful thinking related to my very impractical desire to own a white couch). I am consoled only by two facts: 1) it was the best available option at the time, and 2) at least it matches my living room. Well, I do have my doubts about whether it matches the floors. I know, everything goes with wood, right? But I'm not so sure. I used to be an artist. I am very picky about color combinations.

Pickup vs. Delivery: We went and picked the couch up ourselves instead of paying the furniture store to have it delivered. It was miserably heavy, even for two grown men to carry, and difficult to get into the house, requiring the removal of a door. It also took a long time to drive across the city to the warehouse and back. Then, we had to wait quite a while at the warehouse for them to bring out our couch. We were joined in our wait by similarly thrilled customers and a trash can that had flies. The $70 delivery fee might have been worth it, in retrospect, although since business was slow for me at the time, I was glad to not pay the money. But perhaps my time would have been better spent looking for new clients.

Function: Almost from the beginning, I have wished I had bought the matching ottoman because I am a recliner junkie and I like to put my feet up. But that was an extra $200, which seemed a ridiculous price for what is essentially a freestanding cushion (it looked exactly like the ottoman in the photo accompanying this article, in fact) since I could get a whole couch for $600, and it probably too big for my living room anyway. Given the $70 flat delivery fee and the hassle to pick up furniture, I know I won't be buying the ottoman after the fact. And given my obsession with things matching, I will not be purchasing a less expensive model at Target or Ikea. So I just have to sit sideways on the couch, which is not entirely comfortable when there are two people using it.

Durability: I am already starting to question whether the couch will hold up. I doubt I will still have this couch in ten years, like I originally planned. I am wondering if $600 was too little to spend to expect a quality piece of furniture (shouldn't it be enough, though? That's a lot of money!). The cushions seem to be losing their fluffiness at an alarming rate. Also, the arms of the couch, as I have learned the hard way, are terrible for sitting on. They appear to be rounded and cushy, but underneath are hard and angular and quite painful to casually plop down upon.

I do not really know how to determine anything about couch durability prior to owning it, but I imagine you could do some research online about furniture brands and see who has the best reputation. My La-Z-Boy recliner, for example, has held up fantastically.

Fabric: The microfiber fabric does not attract cat fur like I had feared, and has even held up (so far) to kitten claws. And I've already managed to get two stains on a cushion, though I don't think the stain protector they tried to sell me would have helped, seeing as one of the stains came from my computer cord melting after my kitten chewed it.

Time committment: One thing I am still glad about is that I did not spend a long time looking for the couch. This probably isn't what you expect to hear since I am not totally happy with my purchase. You're probably expecting to hear that I wish I had spent more time looking. When I bought my secondhand couch a while back (which I had to get rid of when I moved in with my boyfriend because there wasn't room for two couches), I spent a lot of time shopping for it. But I don't, because I know I exhausted all the available options for new couches. I went to about ten stores in one day. If I had wanted to get a different couch, I would have needed to wait until some new models came out, which would surely have been months if not a year or more.

Price: I do think my couch looks a lot better than having two mismatched recliners side-by-side in the living room, and it is quite comfortable to sit on. But I guess I feel like I got about $300 or $400 of value for something I paid $600 plus tax for, and I also feel like I will want to replace it in fewer than ten years because I don't love it. I wasn't willing to buy a secondhand couch this time because of both the time involved and my newfound fears about preowned furniture being infested with roaches/fleas/etc. Now that I think about it, there is really no reason why a new couch sitting in a warehouse couldn't also become home to roaches. Hmm.

Comfort: The couch is indeed very comfortable, and has become my preferred place to sit, over the recliner and the bed. It is also long enough to lay down on and has been used as a bed by a few adult visitors with no complaints. The fabric feels nice and the lumbar support is good. I have no complaints in this department.

Overall, though I am not totally happy with my purchase, I don't regret it either, because I still think I made the best decision I could have given the circumstances at the time I purchased it. I have no doubt that I will put more effort into the decision the next time I buy a couch, though.

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Northwest Airlines 40% Mileage Bonus--Is it a Good Deal?

I'd like to share an email I received from Northwest Airlines about a mileage promotion they're having:

"Transfer miles now through September 25, 2009 to a friend or family member with a WorldPerks account and they'll receive your miles plus an additional 40% mileage bonus.
The extra 40% mileage bonus may even give them enough miles for Award Travel."

(Visit the Northwest Airlines site to read about it straight from the source.)
Yes, this sounds like a great deal. So what's the catch? It is not free to give someone miles. Here's the fine print:

Transaction Terms:
Minimum/Maximum mileage per transaction, per recipient: 1,000 / 30,000
Mileage increments: 1,000
Rate per mile: $0.01
Processing fee per transaction: $30.00
One to four WorldPerks recipients may be included in a single transaction

So let's say you wanted to try to game the system. Let's say that you and your sister each have a World Perks account and you want to transfer miles to each other just to get the 40% bonus. Will the bonus be worth the cost to transfer the miles, and how does that cost compare to the cost of buying miles?

Let's say you each have 30,000 miles and want to go for the maximum bonus. Transferring 30,000 miles gets the recipient a bonus of 12,000 miles. At 1 cent per mile transferred, it would cost you $300 to transfer the miles, plus the $30 transaction fee, for a total of $330.

Now, here are Northwest's terms to buy miles:

Minimum/Maximum mileage purchased per transaction: 2,000 / 60,000
Mileage increments: 2,000
Rate per mile: $0.028
Processing Fee per transaction: Fee Waived

Processing Fee and rate per mile do not include applicable taxes

To buy 12,000 miles (the amount of the 40% bonus) at 2.8 cents per mile would cost you $336. There is no transaction fee, so the total cost is $336. You would save $6 by doing the mileage transfer scheme.

It turns out that what appears to be a great deal that might allow you to game the system for some free miles is actually not a deal at all. It's probably just a way for Northwest to promote the concept of transferring miles.

Also, most of us personal finance types would tell you that spending $330 (or $336) to purchase 30,000 miles is not a particularly good deal. You'd be better off signing up for the Delta SkyMiles American Express Gold Card and earning the 20,000+ bonus miles for opening the account (then canceling the card before the annual fee kicks in). (Of course, this will only work if you have good credit.) Why Delta? Because when the Delta/Northwest merger is complete, all your Northwest WorldPerks miles will be merged with your SkyMiles and you'll have one fat mileage account.

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