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Author Archives: Chris Neighbors

About Chris Neighbors

As an employee of the Bureau of Land Management and an MBA student at the University of Nevada, Reno I've had a wonderful experience seeing how the government does business and how the private sector should do business. In my free time I like to pursue my passion for personal finance. Ever since I started studying finance I've been hooked. My goal in life is to take valuable financial information and use it to help others. I also enjoy spending time with my family, reading, fishing, and traveling.

Procrastinators Never Prosper- Plan Ahead to Save Money

I’m back from my blogging vacation (not that I consider studying for finals a vacation), and I’m ready to help you save money. I wanted to discuss something that I know a lot about. I wasn’t sure what to write about at first, and I kept telling myself, “I’ll just think of something tomorrow”. Tomorrow would come, just like it always does, but I’d neglect to think of a tropic. After a week of this I noticed that I, like many others, procrastinate all the time. A lot of people just accept that that’s the way they are and don’t give it a second thought. We’ve all heard someone say, “I’ll do that later. I work better under pressure!” In some circumstances that can work, but procrastination doesn’t work well with keeping your personal finances in order.

There is one main reason that procrastination equals financial disaster and that reason is things rarely work out how we expect them to. We constantly change our minds based on how we feel at that moment, and there are always problems we need to address that we weren’t expecting. Here are a few examples from my life where I wish I wouldn’t have procrastinated.

1) Refilling My Prescriptions: As some of you may know, I’m a diabetic. This means that I frequently visit the pharmacy. I used to wait until I was completely out of insulin to go get my refill (it isn’t rocket science). The last time I procrastinated on this issue was when I went into the pharmacy and they informed me that I had issues with my insurance, and in order for me to get a refill I had pay full price (which was $180 for a week and a half). The woman working there said, “Just wait a few days and we can get this straightened out. Then you won’t have to cough up that much money.” Apparently my insurance had just lapsed and it was time for me to pay for it again. After I took care of that I could get my insulin for $20. Needless to say I couldn’t wait a few days, and I had to pay full price. I learned that lesson the hard way.

2) Cooking Dinner: In my household I’m usually the one that does the cooking. On nights that I don’t particularly feel like cooking I’ll push it off until later. I generally do believe that I’ll get around to making something we already have; unfortunately, most of the time my mood changes and we end up eating out instead. My $10 home cooked dinner turns into a $20 dining experience. What a waste of money.

3) Buying Books For My Classes: Every semester I have to buy books for school, and every semester they get more and more expensive. I used to wait until I actually needed to use a book for an assignment before I’d buy it. By doing that I needed the book ASAP so I couldn’t look for a cheap one online. Also, all the used books (which are way cheaper) were gone from the bookstore. This meant that I got stuck paying for a brand new book. If I would have thought ahead I could have saved money. Instead I chose procrastination.

I think that putting stuff off that we don’t want to do is normal, but at some point you just have to suck it up and do it. When I think back to the actions that procrastinating allowed me to do, they generally didn’t benefit me more than the money would have. I wish everything always turned out the way I expected it to, but unfortunately it usually doesn’t. That is why procrastinating and having healthy finances don’t mix. Have any of you had experiences like these?

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Are You Inadvertently Giving Bad Advice to Your College Bound Kids?

When I was younger I was always being told that the secret to getting a good job is getting an education. I know that I’m not the only one to receive this advice. In fact, I’m willing to bet almost every parent tells their kids this. It has been getting easier for people to get their degrees, and this means that the significance of a college education has changed. In some ways it’s more important and in other ways it’s less. It’s more important because a college degree is becoming the high school diploma. The majority of people used to graduate from high school then go straight to the work force (which is why a college degree gave you a huge opportunity at a good job). Nowadays a lot more people go from high school to college (which is why we don’t have that guarantee anymore). What this is doing is it is allowing employers to require college degrees for jobs that used to only need a high school diploma. They still pay the same wages, but they want more education. College is less important in the sense that it no longer gives you a leg up in the workforce because all your competition also has their degree. Companies are now putting more emphasis on job experience (wait a minute, my parents didn’t tell me about that). What’s a new graduate to do? We’ve always been told it’s good to be well rounded in your life for college applications, but not many of us were told that you need to be well rounded to be successful in general. As the workforce requirements are changing the advice parents give their children is staying the same. I still hear parents tell their kids, “Go to college to be success.” I feel like they are leaving out some important things:

1)      College doesn’t guarantee anything without hard work.

2)      Try out multiple jobs in college so you can gain experience in different fields.

3)      Getting an A isn’t as important as actually understanding the material.

4)      Even with a degree you’ll still have to start towards the bottom of your field.

5)      Don’t take out a ton of student loans unless you’re going to an Ivy League school or becoming a doctor.

Some of these tips may seem like common sense, but I promise you that kids need to hear these things. We all need to start adjusting out attitudes and advice to match theses changing times.

Being an MBA student I’ve had a lot of opportunities to ask business owners questions. The one I like to ask is, “what problems have you seen when interviewing recent graduates?” I like this question because it tells me what not to do when I’m done with school. Everyone always answers the same way. They basically say that college graduates expect too much when starting their careers. They have always been told go to college to be successful. This has made them think that they are owed something when their done with school. Usually it’s that they will start out with a high paying job and they’ll automatically be a manager. When they get their reality check it usually doesn’t end well for the graduate, and they remain unemployed. They don’t want to start out at the bottom. If they did they wouldn’t have spent the money it costs to go to college in the first place (which goes up and up every year). Unfortunately there is rarely a way to get around starting at the bottom of an organization because the 4 year degree is now equivalent to the high school diploma 20-30 years ago. Another comment I commonly get form business owners is that new graduates don’t want to work as hard as the baby boomers did. They focus more on their balance between work and home (which means they don’t want to work more than 40 hours a week). Business owners don’t like this new attitude because they don’t know how to deal with it. They grew up when people were more than happy to work 60 hours a week because it meant more money. This idea that free time is more important than money is foreign to them. I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing, but business structures will have to make this new workforce happy.

I mentioned above about keeping student loans to a minimum, and I wanted to tell you this story from my life that shows why this is important. I knew a girl that refused to work during school, and her parents couldn’t afford to help pay for her education. She also needed to go to school out of state to get the real college experience so her tuition fees were double. Her solution was to take out $50k in student loans. When she graduated college she decided that she wanted to be a teacher! She chooses a teaching salary with $50K in student loans? That was a bad choice, but she didn’t know what she wanted to do until it was too late. If her parent had given her a larger dose of reality there is a good chance she would have made smarter decisions. In many situations parents think it’s OK for their children to take about a lot of student loans because their going to college. I think they, just like their kids, need to realize there are no guarentees. That means that an abundance of student loans might not be such a hot idea. I get that parents are teaching their kids the lessons that they saw working while they were growing up. I respect that they are trying to help make their child successful. I just think it’s also important to watch the world around us and teach them lessons that pertain to here and now. Do you think new graduate feel like they are owed something? Have you seen a change in the workforce? Do you think we as a society should teach changes in the workforce in school?         

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Think You Know the Cheapest Grocery Store- Think Again

There are certain things in life I just assume: the sky is blue, Grandma’s food is safe to eat, and Wal-Mart is the cheapest place to buy groceries. Last week my assumptions have been shaken to the core. No, my grandmother didn’t poison me, and the sky didn’t turn neon green; I found out that Wal-Mart might not have the lowest prices when it comes to groceries! All these year of thinking I’m saving money could be lies. A group in my supply chain management class did a study on pricing and grocery stores (only in Reno). As you would expect, most of the people in my class (including me) assumed Wal-Mart would be the cheapest. Once their presentation was over they did the big reveal, and their findings suggested that Safeway was the cheapest grocery store in our area. Some of the stores they compared were: Riley’s, Wal-Mart, Safeway, Costco, Whole Foods, and a local Co-Op. They got their results by making a large shopping list and going around to each of the stores to figure out how much money the groceries would cost when buying comparable items.

My first instinct was that they’re full of it. I’ve shopped at Safeway and Wal-Mart, and I truly believed Wal-Mart was cheaper (which is why most poor college kinds shop at Wal-Mart). I could see a lot of room for error in their calculations. I had no idea if the brands they bought were the same ones that I usually get. I brushed it off. They were wrong. The next class period I overheard everyone talking, and apparently an article came out in some big newspaper that reinforces their findings: Wal-Mart isn’t the cheapest grocery store. I’ve looked everywhere, but I can’t find the article (if you have seen this article please let me know where it is). I’m choosing to believe my classmates, because I doubt they plotted against me to change where I buy my groceries. I’m wondering to myself, how can this be? Have I been brain-washed by Wal-Mart? Please tell me I’m not putting up with their terrible crowds and lighting for nothing! Main goal has been to save money by finding the cheapest groceries, and I might have failed! 

I’ll probably continue to shop at Wal-Mart because I swear it’s cheaper, but there must be some truth to their findings. Maybe it’s time for me to do some research of my own (I do need to go grocery shopping today). I may have been making a huge personal finance mistake by assuming that Wal-Mart’s atmosphere is terrible so their prices must be the lowest. Have you done your research on where to buy your groceries? What did you find?

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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A Non-Negotiable Guide to Smart Purchases

Like most of you, I try to be frugal whenever possible. For some us it just comes natural and for others it’s hard work. I see myself moving away from frivolous spending towards frugal spending daily. I’ve been trying really hard to take care of my personal finances so it’s becoming painful to pay full price for something! Last weekend I went shoe shopping, and I found a pair that I really liked. I thought they made me look professional and laid back (I’m not sure how that happens, but it did). They weren’t on sale, and the store refused to give me a discount. Even though I really wanted those darn shoes, I couldn’t pull the trigger. I was able to walk away from them because, to me, shoes aren’t important. It’s crucial that we all take a minute to think about what’s important to us. I’m not talking about friends, family, and pets. We all find those things important. I’m looking at this from a purchasing point of view (most of us don’t buy our loved ones). If we know which purchases are important to us then we will also know which aren’t.

 I’ve been thinking about this idea for a long time, and it’s really helped me save money while being satisfied with my purchasing choices. Every time we buy something there is usually a name brand and a generic/off brand. Which should we get? Really frugal people might always go for the cheapest products, but most of us, even if we care about our finances, won’t be content if we practice that type of shopping. The following is an example from my past that will help explain this. A couple years ago I lived with my friend Jimmy. Jimmy ended up getting the flu, and he wanted to borrow some NyQuil from me. At the time I had two huge bottles of some stuff I bought that were generic NyQuil. When I bought them I thought I was getting a great deal. They were 2 for the price of 1! When I handed them over to him he looked like a dear stuck in the headlights. He reluctantly took some. When I got home a few hours later he had a bottle of actual NyQuil sitting on the kitchen table. When I asked him about it he said, “That generic stuff doesn’t work. I had to go get the real thing.” I was shocked. Here I thought I got a good deal on some disgusting tasting off brand NyQuil, but it wasn’t good enough for him. To me medicine is medicine. The brand doesn’t matter. I’m not going to spend extra money to get an actual bottle of NyQuil. To Jimmy all cold medicines are different, and even though they have the same ingredients, some work better than others. He knows he is going to pay more for the “real” stuff, but he is willing to do so because it makes him feel better. He cares about his personal finances, but sometimes we have to go with what we trust (even if it costs extra).

How can you save money by knowing which purchases are important to you? Follow these 4 steps and you can get your answer:

1) Make a list with 3-5 non-negotiable items that you won’t go cheap on.

          a. EX: medicine, food, and electronics

2) Memorize your list or carry it around with you.

3) Every time you buy something check to see if it’s one of your non-negotiable items.

4) If it’s not on your list go for the cheapest thing you can find that still fits your needs, and if it is on your list go with whatever you think is best.

The whole point of this is to keep your list short. If you have a list with 100 items it won’t help your personal finances. If you only have a few non-negotiable it will save you money, make shopping easier, and you can be proud with your purchasing decisions. Jimmy’s list has medicine on it, but it doesn’t have clothes. When he goes shopping he knows he won’t be frugal when buying Nyquil, but he also knows he should shop for clothes off the clearance rack. It’s important to remember that budgeting doesn’t mean always buying cheap stuff. It means you’re taking care of your money in a way that suits you best and enables you to meet your goals. This is just another tool to stay on track. My question to you is: Do you know which purchases are important to you?

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Personal Finance Mistakes- Watch and Learn

When the markets crashed in 2008 it changed a lot of people’s lives. For most, money was tight. People that were once making $100,000 a year selling luxury items were now cleaning toilets at their local McDonalds. At that point a paradigm shift started to occur in our society, and families everywhere started to pull their purse strings closed. They needed to re-evaluate their personal finances and save money. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t know anything about personal finances or being frugal. The door was left wide open for them to make mistakes when they thought they were making sound financial decisions. Luckily for us, we can use their mistakes as examples so we don’t have to make them ourselves.

Mistake 1: Using coupons they didn’t need- When the recession started to occur it became apparent that most of us needed to save money. Companies also saw this so they flooded us with coupons. It became so big that we even have TV shows about (extreme) couponing. Using a coupon is wonderful if it’s used to purchase something you really need. One dollar off a loaf of bread, I’ll take it!  The problem occurs when we use coupons to purchase items that we don’t need. Spending $10 dollars on a 30 pound bag of pop rocks might sounds like a great deal, but what the heck are you going to do with a mountain of pop rocks? That example’s ridiculous, but it happens to me all the time. I’ll think about buying something because I have a coupon even though I don’t really need it. Just because I’m getting a good deal for that product doesn’t mean it’s helping my checkbook!

Mistake 2: Making decisions based on emotions- We can all get emotional when it comes to our finances, and that’s why it’s important to keep an open mind. When the economy was collapsing everyone was trying to protect themselves in any way they could. People were selling all their investments and personal belongings. Others were taking money out of their retirement funds to try and save belongings they really couldn’t afford. Whichever way they were going, a lot of those decisions were rushed. Since 2008 I’ve talked to quite a few people that made rushed decisions and almost all of them regret their actions. Take the investments for example; a lot of them would have rebounded to where they were in 2007, but when people sold them on a whim they sealed their fate of a net loss. I know hindsight is 20/20, but I remember wishing I had money to invest when the markets were crashing. I would have bought B of A. If only…

Mistake 3: Not discussing financial goals- As I mentioned above, after the financial collapse families started to cut back on their spending. From what I’ve seen, most families have one person that deals with most of their finances. That can be a very effective method for money management. If someone is more knowledgeable in personal finance it’s good to let them take the reins. The problem occurs when this person leads their family in a direction that everyone hasn’t agreed on. Having common financial goals is the key to household success, and if you never take the time to set-up these goals you’ll run into trouble. Say, hypothetically, I thought it was important to save money for a family vacation. I mean this whole recession talk has really got me down, and I just want to lie on a beach sipping margaritas. My girlfriend, on the other hand, thinks it’s really important to save money so she can be a stay at home mom. To her, nothing’s more important than spending time with our future children. If I’m the one in charge of our checkbook, but I don’t have a clear understanding of what we both want, I am more likely to take our family in the wrong direction. Once she figures out what’s going on (they always do) we will have major issues. This was a silly example, but when you plug vacation in with keeping your house and trade staying home with the children with paying off student loans it becomes very serious.

 I think most of us read blogs so we can learn a thing or two. The mistakes above were just a few things I’ve noticed since the financial turmoil in 2008. Please share any mistakes you’ve noticed people making since then. If we can all share our observations we might actually be able to help someone!

        

   

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Make Budgeting Easier- Use Financial Software

I’m a late starter when it comes to using personal finance software. I’ve always viewed it as a boring spreadsheet that I could make myself in Excel if I really wanted to. Boy was I wrong! I was lucky enough to receive Quicken as gift yesterday. I had heard great things about it from family members so I was eager to get it installed. After starting the registration process, I realized that it was able to link directly to my bank account. I was very happy with this because I really didn’t want to enter everything manually. Once everything was in sync (not the boy band), I received a ton of information. It was definitely an eye opener! I don’t understand why there are so many blogs written about how to keep track of your personal finances when software like Quicken exists. Those blogs should all be titled “Buy Personal Finance Budgeting Software if You Want to Make Your Life Easier”. I suppose there is a lot to be said for someone that can do it by hand, but who has time for that nowadays?

I’ve only had the program for a day, but here are some good/bad things I’ve noticed so far:

Good:

            It syncs to your bank account which saves time: I was blown away by this. It gives you an automatic starting point. If you did this by hand you would either have to wait a month to get the new information, or you would have to dig through all your old bank records.

            It automatically sorts your expenses: My expenses showed up in a nice, color coded pie chart.

            If you set spending goals for yourself they are easy to follow: They just show up on the front page. Apparently I’m already ¾ the way to my monthly goal on food.

            It seems to be user friendly: So far I haven’t had any issues with it. It only took me 15 minutes to set up.

Bad:

          Some of the expense sorting is inaccurate: When I bought food at Wal-Mart it went into the shopping category instead of the food category. I guess you can’t expect it to know everything right off the bat.

          You can’t pay bills from it (that I know of): Quicken has you list all your expenses, but it didn’t offer me an option to pay them. It seems like that would be a huge time saver.

          I don’t know how to sync other billing information to it: For example, when I entered my Charter monthly billing expense I had to mark that it changed monthly. I think it would be helpful if Quicken could sync to my Charter account to know what my bill will be. This might be possible, but it wasn’t apparent to me.

What software like Quicken shows is that budgeting doesn’t have to be difficult. The information it has given me is so valuable. I’m pretty sure my copy was purchased from Ebay for $30, which is a great deal. I’m sure there are other useful things Quicken 2011 can do. If you know of any, please share!

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Feeding-Tube Diet: No Wonder Our Society’s a Mess

The older I get the more apparent it becomes that there are usually right ways and wrong ways to do things. It also becomes more obvious that the majority of people like to choose the latter of the two. I’m all for saving time/money, but only when the consequences of my actions make sense. Before I go any further, I need to share this story that I saw on the news with you. A soon to be bride wanted to lose weight before her wedding. Instead of dieting and exercising, she decides to spend $1500 to go on the feeding-tube diet. For those of you that haven’t heard of this trendy diet, it consists of shoving feeding tubes down your nose to get nutrients. The woman lost 10 pounds in eight days by doing this.

The first thing that came to my mind when I heard of this was that the loss of her fat was worth $150 a pound. I don’t know about you, but that seems a little outrageous to me! When will our society realize that you can’t just throw money at your problems to make them disappear? The next thing that came to me was that all that weight will come right back. It’s like those people you used to see on the TV show Survivor. They would be skin and bones by the end of it, but as soon as they started eating again they fattened right up. My last thought was that this is what’s wrong with our country! People will spend $150 a pound to lose weight! Not only was she willing to spend it, but she probably preferred it to eating healthy and exercising. If this is the new trend for soon to be brides I should just call it quits now.

Okay, I’m done ranting. The point behind my rant is that we all need to think about the consequences of our actions. This is true in all aspects of life (but I’ll relate it to personal finance since that’s what my blog’s about) . I Googled “consequences” and it brought me to a bunch of parenting website. The pages were titled things like “The 10 Best Ways to Teach Your Child Consequences”. The funny thing is a lot of adults still need to learn about consequences. We teach children to put their b-day money in the piggy bank, but we spend it right away. Our society has accepted the fact that people make mistakes, but it’s almost like we hold ourselves to a lower standard because of that acceptance. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy: we are going to screw up so it’s ok not to care about it. When people make purchases, they have the attitude buy now and worry about paying for it later. The short sightedness of our society will be our demise. Luckily for us, we still have a chance to change. I used to be one of those short sighted people, and if I can change anyone can. Do you agree with me on this, or am I totally off base?

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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