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Saving Money On The Holidays

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holiday savings

The best time of the year has finally arrived. As people are gearing up for merry-making, the list of expenses also gets longer. The thought of ringing in the new year with a pile of debt can make you restless. Make a comprehensive plan, shop smart and enjoy your holidays with full vigor. Here are some smart tips to save you from spending too much on the holiday season.

Make a budget

Think about how much you can spend. Do not go overboard with spending. Include even the smallest anticipated spending in your budget like postage, greeting cards, Christmas décor, and so on. Observe all the expenses minutely and try to save a few bucks if you can. Before you go into a store, think about how much you want to spend on an item. If you can stick to your budget with every purchase, you can allocate some extra money on some unexpected expenditures.

Use cash

Using cash for holiday shopping is a great way to save some money. You can only spend how much you have. Credit cards are like short-term loans. These cards enable you to shop more than you can afford and regret later.

Put yourself on the shopping list too

Sometimes, you buy something very expensive for someone out of impulse, but you never buy that for yourself because of budget constraints. Sometimes, it is better to splurge on yourself too. Check the impulsive gift shopping to save money.

Send e-cards

Sending e-cards is a great way to save money on postage. E-cards are mostly free and come with attractive personalized options.

Choose an inexpensive method to make merry

You do not need to buy extravagant gifts for everyone in the family. Instead, take them out for a ride to see the neighborhood Christmas lights. You can also bake some cookies or cakes for them or try making Christmas crafts for the kids.

Take advantage of the discounts and sales

Holiday sales are the best opportunity to get some amazing gifts at low prices. Check the online deals too. Do some research and ensure that you are paying the best price available in the market for a product. You also need to know when to stop splurging.

Become a Secret Santa

You can use your finances to participate in charity during the holiday season. Instead of buying endless toys and gifts for family and friends, donate generously to this noble cause. You can be on your budget and at the same time arrange toys, clothes, and books for those less fortunate. You can also ask your family to join these celebrations and experience a unique feeling.

Arrange potluck parties

Organizing a big party for family and friends is an age-old tradition for Christmas and New Year. However, arranging and decorating the party in a generous way is a pricey affair. Cooking a lavish meal also needs lots of time and money. Let all your guests know that you are preparing the main dish for the party, and you would appreciate if they can bring in sides, appetizers and drinks. You can also send emails to all the guests requesting a special dish for the party along with the invite. After all, collaborative effort is known to produce great results.

It’s normal to get carried away by the festivities and spend a fortune on shopping. However, having a balanced budget for your holiday shopping can save you from the extra financial burden.  

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Investing

The Best Habits for New Novelists

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There has always been one thing standing in the way of every person that wants to be a novelist: writing the damn novel. Any aspiring writer will tell you that they have endless false starts and half written novels clogging up their laptop. Scribbled notes in copybooks, ideas in their head they haven’t mustered the spirit to put on paper – often times the hardest part about being a writer is the writing. Writers can develop a complex after so many failed attempts. They start to think that they just don’t have what it takes. In reality, they just haven’t given themselves the best chance to succeed. Here are the best habits for all those chasing the two most elusive words in the English language: ‘The End.’

1. Write

Writing every day is a discipline that many people don’t have. It can be difficult to find the inspiration to get behind a keyboard. When you do bring yourself to write, you can struggle with finding a rhythm. Your sentence structure is clunky. You find yourself rewriting the same sentence over and over again. The best way to rid yourself of this is by writing every day. Even if you can only manage to write 100 words one day, make the time to do it.

2. Establish a Ritual

To help strengthen your writing habits, it’s a good idea to create a ritual out of it. Choose to write just after breakfast. Get a coffee mug that you only use when you’re working on the novel. Put on a certain music playlist (something without lyrics, preferably). Where do you write? Pick a place, free of distraction to designate your place to get work done. It can be difficult to write in the room where you typically watch TV or eat. Consider a local coffee shop, a place where you will be free of the million other little things you should be doing around the house.

3. Outline Your Novel

Outlining is tricky. Some writers love outlines. Some writers hate them. All writers need them. You don’t need an outline when you first start writing, but once you know where you you’re your story to go, put it down on paper. There are many different ways to outline your story. It is just a matter of finding the best way for you. A great practice is to break up your novel into acts. This way you can outline your story in sections. Mark the beginning of your story on the outline, then mark the end. If your story was a TV show with three seasons, what would happen in the first season finale? Make that the end point of your first act. Create as detailed an outline of your first act as you feel comfortable. Then, revisit the second and third act of your outline once you’ve written all of the first. Keep in mind that just because you put something in the outline, doesn’t mean it’s written in stone. Nearly all novels have diverted from the original outline in one way or another.

4. Get to Know Your Characters

If you’re writing something, then you presumably want someone to read it. You want your readers to be invested and care – you want them to love or hate your characters. Take the time to develop your characters before you write them into your story. You know that your protagonist is the charming, sarcastic anti-hero type. Why is he that way? Where did he grow up? What was his dad like? Has he ever loved before? Picture him going to the grocery store. What would he buy? How would he treat the cashier? If he found a wallet on the ground, would he keep it or turn it in? Maybe he pockets the cash and then turns it in.

4 ½. Smell Your Setting

One of the easiest ways to get taken out of your story is when suddenly a new element to the setting was introduced that they were not expecting.

It’s snowing? I pictured a warm summer day.

Whenever you introduce a new setting in your story, think of what it might smell like and work from there. Smell is the sense tied closest to memory, but also the last sense in mind when reading a book on the couch. A well described smell can teleport a reader from their bedroom to a dank, marshy swamp or an old rusty spaceship in an instant.

5. Don’t Edit

Writing and editing are two completely different things. They require a different mindset. Do not edit when you should be writing. It can be tempting to go back and tidy up some dialogue that you wrote the day before, but you should avoid it as best you can. The quickest way to disrupt your flow and your vision is to go back and chop up what you worked on mid project. Keep your head down and forge ahead. There will be moments where you don’t feel that your writing is at its best, but it is more important to get the words down than it is to get them down perfectly. There will be time for that later.

6. Cut to the Chase

If you’re not interested in writing about something, how can you expect your audience to be interested in reading about it? There will be times when you find that you’re writing a scene that in all reality is inconsequential to the story and whatever point you’re trying to make. Feel free to leave it all out of there. Is your protagonist having some profound thought on their drive home from work? Did they witness something on the road or learn something significant from a radio broadcast? If not, you should consider leaving it out. There are times when you get into a rhythm and you’re practically typing faster than you can think of the words. Take a beat, step back, and think about the importance of what you’re writing.

7. You’re Done! Now You Can Edit Your Novel

You did it! You sat down every day and banged on the keys until you finally wrote ‘happily ever after,’ or ‘they were never heard from again.’ Of course, that’s not it. While the hard part may be over, you still have a long road ahead. It’s time to rip your story apart. How do you write a good story? You write a bad story and make it better.

When you start to make edits to your story, the first thing you want to do is put it down. Close the laptop and leave it alone for a little while.  A few weeks? Months? That’s up to you, but the important thing is to put some space between you and your baby. You want to be able to look over your work with fresh and relatively new eyes. Once you’re ready to bust out the red pen, consider printing out your story – one sided and double spaced. You’ll feel accomplished holding the draft in your hands, but it’s also good to read it like someone would read a book. Try reading your story aloud. It’s easier to skip over misspellings or miss awkward sounding sentences when you read in your head. Don’t be afraid to run out of ink in that red pen. If you don’t have enough notes, you’re not a good editor. Once you’ve made your notes, go back and fix them. Print out the draft, and edit again.

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Investing

How to Start an Investment Club with your Friends without Killing Them

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One of the best ways to learn about trading on the stock market is to join an investment club. Day trading, the NASDAQ, hedge funds, and short selling – the intricacies of the stock market can be complex and confusing. For beginners, it can be hard to know where to get started. Starting an investment club with friends is a great way to learn about trading while sharing the workload. The trouble is that it can be difficult to mix friends and money, and while you may have experience exchanging money with your friends, an investment club is no fantasy football league. Here are some tips to start a successful investment club with your friends.

1. Set the Tone for your Investment Club

When friends get together, good times closely follow. The conversation goes from sports to relationship troubles, to funny stories and back again – all lighthearted and casual. When you meet for your investment club, it is important to declare your meeting business time. Whether each member has invested a few dollars or hundreds, you must all keep in mind that you are all making decisions with each other’s money. Respect for the investment club and each other’s finances cannot be overstated.

2. Agree on Terms

You should use your first meeting to agree on the what’s and the how’s. Make clear the function of the investment club and what is expected of each member.

Answer these questions:

  • How are you investing?
    • Are you all going in on the same stock or are you meeting to share strategies and notes?
    • How do you agree on what stock to invest in?
  • How much do you invest?
  • What happens if you miss a meeting?
  • Can new members join? How?
  • How do you handle a member that wants to get out?
  • What kind of broker will you use?

Draw up a mission statement or your own Constitution that you can refer back to if things get confusing in the future.

3. Structure Your Meeting

Sticking to a structure is the best way to make sure that your investment club meetings run efficiently. It can be easy to lose track of time when sitting with friends and before you know it, hours have gone by and you haven’t gotten any real work done. Plot out the pacing of your meetings to make sure you stay on topic.

Plot time to discuss:

  • Current portfolio
  • Troubling stocks
  • News of businesses or stock market
  • Presentations of new stock pitches
  • Vote
  • Potential new members
  • Other News

Consider appointing someone as the ‘On-Point Czar.’ Maybe get a gavel. If you don’t trust your friends with something shaped like a hammer, maybe don’t get a gavel.

4. No Room for Freeloaders in an Investment Club

The biggest take from starting an investment club is not the money. At least, not at first. You will really benefit from group efforts to learn about the stock market. Maybe one of your friends went to school for finance. Maybe another is a member of a different investment club. Your one friend who was the bookworm in high school is a valuable asset because he does his homework, while your other friend is really good at thinking outside the box.

In any case, participation is key. It is not enough to chip money in every week. Task each member with doing their homework and asking questions. Keeping a rotating calendar of whose turn it is to host the meetings is a great way to keep members on their toes and actively involved.

5. Make it Fun

Just as important as taking your investment club seriously, it’s important to leave room for fun. There is a reason you’re in a club with friends instead of answering an ad on a library bulletin board. Implement fun games or rules during the meetings. Make the person who pitched the worst stock buy the first round of beer if you meet at a bar. Wear barrister wigs at the meetings or get jerseys made. Design a logo for your club. What’s the name of your investment club? Is it ridiculous? Why not?

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Business

What Type of Bookkeeping is Best for Business?

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business bookkeeping

Regardless of industry or number of employees, every business requires bookkeeping in some capacity. Larger businesses might employ one, two or even more full time bookkeepers, while smaller businesses may hire a part-timer to review the books once a month. No matter the business, it’s important that owners and managers understand that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to bookkeeping.

While cost is always a dominant factor when choosing the bookkeeping process for a business, it is not the only one to consider – after all, businesses should not bank on a bargain when it comes to the person in charge of overseeing their finances. To better understand the different “types” of bookkeeping, here are three categories to consider:

1. Traditional bookkeeper

Whether your business is small or large, you’ll need to hire an experienced bookkeeper with a formal education and accreditations. Specifically, the bookkeeper should have substantial experience in business accounting, preferably in your particular industry. This way, you can rely on their previous learnings, which will allow for a shorter onboarding period.

It’s important to consider the role a bookkeeper will play in relation to your business’s Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Typically, bookkeepers are in charge of processing an organization’s financial transactions and documents, including purchases, receipts, sales and payments. Those transactions are recorded in a ledger or journal. In addition to the daily ledger, most businesses use software, (think QuickBooks or Sage), to keep track of entries, debits and credits. Keeping two separate recordings, one manual and one virtual, results in a trial balance with a final total of debits and credits that match. The ideal bookkeeper, particularly those who are certified, will classify and summarize financial information into financial reports, balance sheets, income statements and cash flow statements.

A CPA’s priority should be analyzing business processes and reporting, and providing advice to the business owner, especially for complex tax filing concerns. While a bookkeeper handles the businesses’ day-to-day transactions, the CPA will review and analyze the financials at specified times throughout the year. To ensure cohesion and integrity of the business’s finances, it is critical that the bookkeeper and CPA work as parts of a system.

2. Advanced bookkeeping technology

All businesses should implement some level of technology into the accounting workflow to lessen their financial and administrative burden. When considering advanced bookkeeping technologies, businesses must ensure that the technology works harmoniously across the board, while solving for particularly tedious tasks within the workflow.

For example, one of the more time-consuming, monotonous tasks in the average accounting workflow is data entry. From invoices to expense receipts, businesses are flooded with excessive yet necessary documents on a daily basis. For more streamlined and efficient data entry, businesses should employ expense tracking and management technology. Proper expense tracking ensures that employees are getting reimbursed for their expenses on the job while maximizing tax deductions and protecting the business in case of an audit.

To ensure the business’s expense management technology seamlessly plugs into their existing accounting workflow, owners and managers should be on the lookout for three features:

1. Mobile capture: Bulky scanners are office gadgets of the past. In today’s business world, mobile apps and software can turn your smartphone camera into a mobile scanner, allowing business owners and employees to simply snap a photo to extract data points, like totals, dates and vendor names, and import them into the proper location.

2. Integrate with advanced accounting software: Proper “locations” are often powerful accounting software, like QuickBooks or Sage. Through integration with the accounting software, the data entry process is not only streamlined, but ensures the correct information is being put into the correct data field.

3. Cloud Capabilities: In today’s increasingly-connected world, business owners and employees need access to their most important business documents at all times, so it’s important that their expense management systems are connected to the cloud. In addition to ease of access, the cloud promotes a collaborative work environment and allows coworkers to always be on the same page.

While most businesses use some combination of advanced technology and a traditional bookkeeper, those that are looking for a completely hands-off (and expensive) approach should consider a virtual bookkeeper.

3. Virtual bookkeeper

With the ubiquity of cloud technology and the popular practice of remote collaboration, some businesses are employing new virtual bookkeeping services. Virtual bookkeepers stand in as an entire outsourced accounting department for a business. With a team of bookkeepers, businesses have a unique system of checks and balances giving the owner peace of mind.  While they may lose the personal approach of a single bookkeeper, they can rely on availability and speed with multiple bookkeepers available at a moment’s notice.

When deciding what kind of bookkeeper will work best, it’s important for businesses to realize that advanced technology can supplement (or even replace) certain aspects of the bookkeeping workflow. While a full-time bookkeeper can certainly manage the entire process, businesses that implement certain software can eliminate tedious steps of the process, saving time and money. By allowing technology to solve for menial tasks, business owners may be able to move to a part-time bookkeeper or even take over the role themselves.

Each option comes with pros and cons, and it is determining the best fit for each individual business that is paramount.   Business owners and managers should keep their bookkeeping process current; both to the market and their businesses’ ever-changing requirements. There is always room for improvement, so constant evaluation and tweaking of workflows to ensure an efficient bookkeeping process, and ultimately, a better return on investment, should always be employed.

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