Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Nice Day for a White Wedding

The summer is upon us and the temperatures continue to rise. Welcome back to wedding season and all the spending that comes with it. We all know the folks footing the bill for a wedding these days are bearing an increasingly large financial burden. What of those who attend weddings as guests? Travel, hotel, clothing, and gift expenses add up fast. Wouldn’t everyone come out ahead if the happy couple just flew to Vegas and had Elvis marry them?

The average cost of a wedding these days is $20,398. If you figure that a typical wedding event lasts for about six hours – from ceremony through reception – that’s about $3,400 per hour! If you’re interested in discovering the cost of a typical wedding in your area, visit

Think about the financial implications of being a guest at a wedding. How far do you have to travel? Will you fly? Are you in the wedding party? What will you spend on a gift? Is your presence present enough? Where will you stay? Are you paying for meals?

As with anything else, the best place to start is with a budget. As you learn of a couple’s pending nuptials a few months in advance of the wedding, begin preparing your plan by totaling your anticipated expenses. The costs of travel, lodging, gift, and food must be included. Take that total and divide the amount by the number of months remaining until the wedding. If you save that dollar amount each month, you’ll be in great shape to enjoy the ceremony, do the Macarena at the reception, and not have to drag the couple’s commemorative sachet bag of personalized M&Ms home along with a bulging credit card bill.

What if there isn’t as much advance notice? Then it’s decision time. We can either decide to spend a little extra on a gift because we choose not to attend or vice versa. Or we could plan to attend while keeping lodging, food, and gift costs to a minimum. On a tight gift budget? If you find out where the happy couple is registered, buy all the serving utensils or dish towels you can; you can fill a gift box with items like this for less than $20.

Marriage is supposed to be the union of a man and woman committing their lives to each other in front of all their loved ones. With a little forethought, you’ll enjoy supporting the newlyweds without breaking the bank.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Think you can't be a successful entrepreneur in a bad economy?

That seems to be a pervading thought in the minds of hopeful entrepreneurs through the ages. Our current economy is less than promising, but still offers many people the chance to succeed.

Just try telling soup maker Campbell's that you can't launch during a depression. They introduced their famous Cream of Mushroom and Chicken Noodle soups at the end of the the Great Depression in 1934.

Revlon launched its long-lasting nail polish in 1932.

Innovator 3M invented Scotch tape in the heat of one of the worst years, 1930.

More recently, Diet Coke made its debut in the worst recession since the Great Depression in 1982.

One thing I've noticed with each of these products is they are not necessities. I could live without any of them and that includes the Hula Hoop, introduced during the Eisenhower recessions of 1958, just 3 years after the first McDonald's opened.

But each of these ideas has brought the companies who introduced them millions of dollars in revenues.

Instead of sitting on the sidelines waiting for conditions to get better, be bold! Take your plans and back them up with action. The world will thank you.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Want to Save some Money?

In this week’s Sunday edition of The Wall Street Journal, Brett Arends wrote a short article about saving $5,000, fast. Before we begin saving any money, though, we have to make a choice. Making a choice means taking responsibility.

There are three uses of money: we give it, save it, and spend it (the average American was brought into this world already knowing how to do the latter). In order to give or save any money, we must create a margin in our lives. Creating a margin requires that we live on less money than we make; this is the choice we make. Novel idea, I know, but when 70% of the country lives paycheck-to-paycheck, we have to lay this foundation first.

So what can you do to save some money? First, create a spending plan – or budget – you must know where every dollar is going in order to allocate more toward savings. Likewise, with a budget you’ll know exactly where each of those saved dollars is going so they don’t vanish. The vast majority of those who create a spending plan – and execute on it – feel like they get a raise because each dollar is accounted for and has a purpose.

Look at your grocery and eating out spending categories. Our rule-of-thumb is budgeting $150 per person per month in the household. Consider great resources like Angel Food Ministries to get groceries for more than 50% off. Pass on one restaurant meal each month and you’ll save around $600 a year.

If you’ve gone for more than two years without having your insurance policies re-quoted, it’s time to make some phone calls. If you have a solid emergency fund in place, increase your deductibles. Auto, homeowner’s, and life premiums are constantly being evaluated and updated. Just because you’ve been loyal to one provider doesn’t mean you’re getting the best rates. Consider contacting an independent agent who can find the best rates at a variety of providers. Don’t be surprised if doing this saves you anywhere from $300 to $1,500 in premiums this year.

Once you get the ball rolling, you’ll find plenty of other categories in your budget to generate savings. Look at your cable and cell phone packages, estimate savings by packing a lunch, and try brewing your own coffee at home instead of buying it on the run. Craigslist and eBay are your friends; sell what you know you don’t need and generate some cash.

All of these lifestyle and financial changes require a choice. Having a few thousand extra dollars in the bank would be sweet affirmation of a choice well made.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Best Car Money Can Buy

Remember your dream car when you turned 16? I remember thinking a candy apple red Ford Mustang would do the trick. I even went through a Chevrolet Corvette phase. As I grew older and wiser to the wide world of automobiles, I began exploring the offerings of our friends across the pond: the BMW 3-series and Mercedes E-class.

In recent years, our friends across the other pond have been producing cars heavily sought after by Americans: Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Neither of those automakers can even shake a stick at the most popular car in the United States: The Little Tikes Cozy Coupe.

Yes indeed, the Cozy Coupe is being inducted into the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum in Cleveland, Ohio this month. In 2008, the Cozy Coupe outsold all other cars in the U.S. with 457,000 units. In its storied 30-year history 10 million units have been sold and it ranks as one of the top-20 best-selling models of all time.

The Cozy Coupe has been (and always will be) the eco-friendly vehicle of choice, as it runs entirely on foot power. Likewise, maintenance costs are kept low due to the minimal number of moving parts on the vehicle. I’m told the insurance premiums are very affordable, too, and would be even more so if the Coupe had side-impact airbags. The MSRP on the Cozy Coupe is $49.99, but be on the lookout for dealer rebates and incentives.

All kidding aside, I can’t help but smile and shake my head. We spend a lot of money on our cars. As a matter of fact, the average monthly car payment in North America is about $470. We’ll even attempt to impress others at stoplights we’ll never meet by leasing luxury cars (70% of luxury vehicles are leased). Given the state of the auto industry, it sure is encouraging to see an American-made vehicle topping the popularity charts.

Who knows: maybe Little Tikes will start making larger versions of the Cozy Coupe for the kid in all of us operating on an adult budget.

When Dominos Fall and Snakes are Charmed

Dominos have a way of mesmerizing us, don’t they? The whole point of dominos is to watch how one seemingly insignificant piece of plastic can impact literally thousands of others, simply by falling over.

For banks, the first domino to fall was their mortgage portfolios. Now all eyes are turning to credit cards.

Historically, credit card default rates have followed unemployment rates nearly step-for-step. At the end of the fourth quarter of 2008, credit card defaults were at 7.73% on nearly $1 trillion of outstanding credit.

In an effort to cut (their losses) and run, the credit card issuers have been offering some of their customers some unprecedented incentives for – of all things – discontinuing their business. Left and right customers are receiving settlement offers for anywhere from 25% to 60% of outstanding balances. The rationale is that banks will take 25% of what they let you borrow in order to avoiding getting 0% of what they let you borrow.

Unfortunately, not all customers are faring as well. For those who don’t pose a serious default risk, the credit card issuers are looking to make up their lost ground…by raising interest rates and slashing credit limits. In mailboxes all across the country, loyal credit card holders are being notified that interest rates are going from 4% to 24%. For others, they’ll find their credit card limit has been reduced. In one instance, a customer with a credit card balance of $2,345 found that her credit limit was reduced from $5,000 to $2,350 – just enough for one last hamburger.

With their portfolios on very shaky ground, these credit card issuers are recoiling and finding themselves charmed. The same folks, who’ve been shown to purposely delay applying payments to generate a late fee, reduce limits to increase overlimit fee activity, raise interest rates when they find it convenient, and mail applications for their products to three-year olds and dogs have been charmed.

As consumers, we have to ask ourselves: are these the kind of people I want to do business with? And if so: how long can I play with snakes before I am bitten?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Become an Expert, Explode Your Profits

I was floored this week when I got back a survey from hundreds of business owners. 80% of them said that becoming an expert would likely mean an increase in profits of $60,000 or more this year!

I'm not as amazed at that part because I know the benefits. What I'm amazed about is that very few business owners are making any effort to become an expert in their fields.

For $7 this Monday I'll show you exactly what to do.

By the way, I'm really passionate about helping you and I'm donating 100% of the revenue to the Haitian Children's Home.