Just One Step Forward

Stop and look in the mirror. 100% happy with everything you see?

I certainly am not. I’m still scrawnier than I’d like to be. Ideally, I want to gain another 30 pounds of muscle. My bank account? Well, that’s scrawnier than I’d like it to be as well. My career is moving along, but if I’m honest, I’ve not done as much as I thought I would when I was a senior in college and expected myself to change the world. Socially, I have a few good friends and I’ve made a lot of progress towards overcoming that natural shyness that I grew up with. But you know that guy that just walks into a room, commands instant respect, and electrifies the crowd? That’s still not me.

If I honestly assess where I am at as a person vs where I’d like to be, I see so much ground I need to cover. It’s a bit overwhelming – so much to do. I find myself either stressing out about how far from my ideal self I still am or trying to just accept where I am now as good enough.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” – Lao Tzu

I could freak out and stress over how much work I still have to do or I could give up and just accept I’ll never reach my goals, but a third option exists. Just One Step Forward. All I need to do today is take one step forward towards my goals. Just one step. Slow, steady forward progress will eventually accomplish your largest, most incredible dreams.

What can you do today to take 1 simple step forward? Here’s a few ideas.

  • Take a jog to burn some calories and strengthen your heart.
  • Sign up for a class in something you’ve always wanted to learn.
  • Visit the store and buy one clothing item that fits well and gives you confidence.
  • Join an online dating site and practice chatting with someone.
  • Better yet, visit a coffee shop and make small talk with someone there.
  • Sign up for a gym and search Youtube for a few basic workouts.
  • Fill out a to-do list to get yourself organized.
  • Clean one room or even one part of a room.
  • Message a friend to reconnect.
  • Read the first chapter of a book you’ve always wanted to read.
  • Drop $10 into a savings account.
  • Take 5 minutes and just breathe. Repeat the word “peace” or “strength” or “love” in your mind. You just meditated.
  • Plan to help someone today. When the opportunity presents itself, go for it.

None of these ideas are dramatic or life-changing. But then again maybe they are. If the journey of a thousand miles really does begin with a single step, then these simple steps may change you in ways you can’t imagine. You don’t have to change the world today. You don’t even have to transform yourself. You need just take a single step towards a better you. And in doing so, you just might end up changing yourself and the world more than you ever realized.

If you really want to master something as quickly as possible and go from first step to goal even quicker, I highly recommend The First 20 Hours – How to Learn Anything Fast. Josh Kaufman helps self-directed learners like us expedite the learning process get to the stage of enjoying what we’ve learned as fast as possible. If you are serious about self-improvement, moving forward towards goals, and achieving skills faster, then consider this book a strong introduction to everything you need to know.

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Happy reading, happy improving, and may your small steps lead to giant leaps toward your dreams!

How to Do Your Taxes Easily This Year

dollar-1362243_960_720The tax deadline will soon be upon us. In the past, I’ve put off filing my taxes to the last minute. Unfortunately, this means I scramble to get them done, possibly missing additional ways to save and creating lots of unnecessary stress. One of my New Year’s resolutions this year is to file my taxes as soon as I can.

If you’d like to join me in getting them done early then you should know that you really have 3 options when it comes to filing your taxes.

Option 1: File Taxes Through an Accountant

This is the easiest option of all. But it comes with two downsides. First, it is the most expensive option. In 2014, the average tax preparation fee was $273. I can think of a lot of things you’d rather spend your money on than a tax accountant. Then again, if you have an extremely complicated tax situation, you may find that this is the best route to take. The second downside is by turning it all over to an accountant, you remove yourself from the process to a certain degree. I believe in self-sufficiency, so I think as much as possible, it is best to take charge of things yourself. That leads to opportunities to learn more and to become more self-reliant.

Option 2: File Taxes Yourself

You may think that this is the option I recommend. After all, it’s free. It also gives you total control over the process. However, I do not recommend filing taxes manually by yourself. Why? The IRS estimates about 20% of manually filed taxes contain errors. That’s a 1 in 5 chance. Scary. It is just too easy to make a mistake if we do all the math and paperwork by hand.

Option 3: File Taxes Through an IRS-approved Software Program

This option is the winner in my book. Why? It combines the best features of options 1 and 2 while minimizing their downsides. If you file your taxes through an IRS-approved software program, you will pay a lot less than through an accountant. In fact, Turbo Tax even has an option for free filing for simple federal taxes. My tax situation is more complicated because I am an expat who works for a foreign company and I simultaneously run my own business, but even I only pay about 50 dollars for TurboTax’s deluxe package to handle all those extra details. And the IRS estimates that only 1% of taxes filed through programs like TurboTax have errors, making them 20X safer than trying to file by yourself and making them comparable to filing through an accountant.

My favorite feature of TurboTax is their Audit Risk Meter, which reviews your entire return and lets you know if there are any red flags. I also love their live on-screen help to answer any questions that pop up as you work.

With the deadline just days away, whether you choose option 1, option 2, or option 3, you need to get started right away! Good luck, and here’s to a big refund this year!

The Rediculous Power of 1 Dollar

dollar-1362243_960_720.jpgHi folks! It’s Jamie here again today to talk about another way to Improve Your Life This Year. Today’s topic – your personal finances.

I randomly remembered a conversation that I had several years ago with a friend. It was back before the era of smart phones, so we debated it over beers and then left it unresolved by the end of the night.

The idea was simple: If you set aside a dollar a day, invested those dollars in an index fund, how much would you have at retirement?

The thing is the math is a bit tough to do, so we roughly tried to approximate the math and then argued whether it was very much or not.

So today I played around with the numbers and I want to share both the results as well as my interpretations.

Really, this problem is pretty simple math. You only need to know how much you invested, how long it was invested, and what rate of return you received.

If you start at 30 and retire at 65 and earn 5% per year, a dollar a day will give you about $35,000.

If you start at 30 and retire at 65 and earn 8% per year, a dollar a day will give you about $63,000.

If you start at 20 and retire at 65 and earn 5% per year, a dollar a day will give you about $61,000.

If you start at 20 and retire at 65 and earn 8% per year, a dollar a day will give you about $152,000.

Lessons Learned

  1. Start Early. There is a huge difference in the final outcome if we can start earlier rather than later. No matter how old you are now, start saving. If money is tight, find a way to save just a dollar a day.
  2. Interest Rates Matter. Small changes in interest rates have a huge impact. That means low-cost or no-cost index funds are best because lower costs mean higher real rates of return for you.
  3. Every Little Bit Helps. Even a dollar a day leads to a huge sum in the end. Don’t be discouraged. Don’t skip savings just because you feel you can’t save a lot. Even a dollar a day matters greatly.

You, CEO – Monitoring

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Welcome to our first post in our new series You, CEO. Be sure to check out the introduction here if you haven’t already.

Monitoring

Companies generally don’t make decisions based on emotions, feelings, guesses, or blind chance. But if you are honest, those factors often play a role in the decisions you make in your own life.

If we want to copy the success of top CEOs, let’s start by learning to copy their decision-making strategies. One of the best decision-making tools is data analysis. It’s a huge and growing industry that is changing the business world. It can have an equally powerful impact on our lives as well.

However, before we can analyze data, we need to have data. That’s today’s topic – getting the right data.

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You Get What You Measure

You get what you measure. This is one of the immutable laws of business, and it can be applied to your personal life as well. Whatever you choose to measure, you will begin to focus on it and improve it. Likewise, what you decline to measure generally gets overlooked and rarely sees improvement.

So step 1 is simply to choose what areas of your life you want to improve. Step 2 then is to choose a specific way to measure progress in that area. For example, if I want to save money, I should start tracking how much money I have saved at the end of each week. If I want to get stronger, I should start tracking how many pushups I do each day. If I want to become more intelligent, I could start tracking how many self-improvement books I read each month.

Now step 2 can be easily messed up, so be careful. Remember we said, you get what you measure. If for example you only track how many pushups you do, you may wind up focusing on pushups to the exclusion of other exercises. Then you aren’t really getting stronger overall; you are just getting better at a specific exercise. So choose carefully and choose multiple measurements to get better overall progress.

I use an Excel spreadsheet to measure my progress across several categories. You can do it digitally like me or write it out by hand as well. Choose the method most comfortable to you and stick to it. It may feel hard to at first, but I promise you can develop the habit within a month if you tough out the first few weeks.

Then, just as a CEO has piles of data to look at when making decisions, you too will have the data you need to stay motivated, track progress, and make well-informed decisions about your life. We’ll build on this idea in our next post in the series CEO, You. See you soon.

Jamie

Stay connected! Follow us on Facebook and on Twitter!:-)

P.S. If you want to do even more to improve your life today, sign up for the free version of Grammarly. Grammarly is a real-time grammar editor that will keep your writing error-free, warn you about plagiarism, and help you improve your writing. After all, as the CEO of your life, you can’t be a sloppy communicator. Try Grammarly today and start writing like a pro!

The Complete Guide to Improving Your Finances This Year

Everyone makes tons of goals around the new year. Unfortunately by summer, most of those ambitious plans have been long forgotten.

But here’s the thing. Summer is a great time for a financial reboot. There are so many fun (and free!) things to do, there’s no expensive heating bill to worry about, and best of all, here’s the Improve My Life This Year – The Complete Guide to Improving Your Financial Life.

How to use The Complete Guide to Improving Your Financial Life

My advice is this: use this guide as a checklist. Review it point-by-point. Most readers will find that some parts are more relevant than others to their specific financial situation. That’s great! Focus on the areas where you can improve. Financial difficulties lead to stress, health problems, relationship conflicts and depression. So if you are serious about improving your life this year, it is absolutely vital that you gain complete control over your financial situation.

Step 1: Increase Your Income

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Alright here we are at step 1. If you want to improve your financial situation, a simple, yet overlooked way is to increase your income. How? Well first, just ask for it. You may be surprised, but if you sit down with your boss and ask for more hours or ask for a raise, you may get it. The worst that can happen is they say no, but the answer is definitely no until you summon the courage to ask.

To increase your chances of being told yes, I recommend 2 strategies. One, take a month to do amazing work. That’ll build up your reputation prior to meeting with your boss. Two, document everything. As much as possible, record all the contributions you are making, particularly the ones that go above and beyond the call of duty. Especially important here are ones that can be linked to increased profits for your company. Find a way to show how your work adds value to the company. If you are making the firm more money, it is much easier for your manager to justify increasing your salary.

If you strike out here, then I recommend that you seek out other money-making opportunities outside of work. Do you write a blog? If not, check out this post on how to start one. Once you get some readers, you can add affiliate links to your articles (I’ll have a post out soon which explains how to do this) and earn commissions when people make purchases.

Another idea is to monetize a skill you already have. Do you like to play chess? Start offering chess lessons. Love golf? Be a caddie on the weekends. Love to read? Start a really cool book club and charge dues to join. The wonderful thing about living in this age is you can easily and cheaply start almost any business with a simple website.

To recap Step 1: Do some great work for a month. Document it all. Show it to your boss and ask for a raise. In the meantime, launch a website or start a blog and sell the skills you already have.

Step 2: Decrease Your Expenses

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You all know the classic saying, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” It’s totally true. While we try to increase our income in Step 1, we can also improve our financial situation by reducing our expenses. How?

A great place to start is with this post, How to Save More Money in 6 Simple Ways. In that article, one thing I talk about is the idea that you should track every expense you make for one month. It is tedious and annoying, but trust me, the results will shock you. You’ll find there are things that you had no idea you spent so much money on.

The best way I have found to reduce expenses is to look for and eliminate these unnecessary habitual costs. I answered a question on Quora recently with analysis on just how much a daily coffee from Starbucks can set you back financially in the long-run. You can read the answer in full here or just skip to the conclusion – you may retire with $10,000 less just because you drank a cup a day this year.

How else can you save money? I’ll open that question up to you. Please tell us in the comments below any money-saving tips you have.

To recap Step 2: Record all your expenses for one month. Then identify and eliminate the habitual expenses that have been costing more than realize.

Step 3: Use the Gains from Step 1 and Step 2 to Increase Your Savings

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OK, Step 3 is where things get fun. Take your new income from Step 1. Take your new free money from Step 2. Add them together. Congratulations! This is your new money for savings. Now, this is important. I want you to open a new savings account. We don’t want this money mixing with the money we use in our daily life. This new money for savings should simply not exist in our mind. We will use it for building a long-term pile of money for starting a future business, getting higher education, or retiring with dignity and freedom.

So, open a new savings account and hide the money from Step 1 and Step 2 there. Or, if your willing to add a bit of risk in exchange for likely higher future returns, you can choose to put it in an low-fee or no-fee index fund. In the short-term, the market can swing up or down quite a bit, but if you are truly investing for the long-run, this can be a smart move (Of course it goes without saying, all investments have risk and you should do due diligence before making any investment decisions and speak with a certified financial adviser).

To recap Step 3: Add your new money from Step 1 and from Step 2 and save it for your future.

Step 4: Create a Plan to Get out of Debt

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Step 4 is so important that I considered making it Step 1. If you are in debt, you absolutely need to come up with a realistic plan to get out. At the risk of over-simplifying, we can honestly think of debt as either good or bad debt.

Good debt is the kind that is enabling you to become wealthier in the future. If you bought a good home with a mortgage in a nice neighborhood where prices are rising, this is most likely to be good debt. Why? Well, through this debt you are A) avoiding rent payments and B) slowly gaining full ownership of an asset that is rising in value. Of course, in the long-run, you’d like to pay off that mortgage, but this debt isn’t so terrible to have.

Bad debt on the other hand is the debt that does not deliver any tangible long-term increases to your wealth. Let’s say I buy an expensive watch with my credit card. Most likely, that watch will not help me get richer in the future. If I am in debt now because of it, that debt is bad debt because it doesn’t enrich me; it only slowly bleeds me.

The simple rule to remember is this. Find out the interest rate you can earn by saving the money in Step 3. Compare that rate to the interest rate you are being charged for any debts that you have in Step 4. Whichever rate is higher becomes your priority.

If I can earn 2% by saving the money in a CD at the bank and I pay 1% interest on student loans and 15% on my credit cards, then any new money I gain from Steps 1&2 should first go to pay off credit cards, then go toward a CD and then go making more than the minimum payment on the student loans – in that order.

Important Note: Some people are struggling to make their current payments. For you there may be significant help available. National Debt Relief has helped tens of thousands of people and is accredited by the Better Business Bureau. If you need help, you can get some free advice from the them today.

To recap Step 4: Rank your debts by the interest rate you pay and tackle the highest rates first. If you need help with your debts, get some help now so you can be on the path to freedom.

Step 5: Make Important Financial Decisions Wisely

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Now let’s start looking at the future. Big financial decisions will impact your overall financial health a lot. Sure you can save some extra money by making coffee at home rather than buying it outside everyday, but if you want to make the biggest positive impact to your overall financial situation, you absolutely need to make the right decisions at some key moments.

A great example of this is when you are buying a new home. The choice of which home to buy, the choice of which community to live in, and the choice of which mortgage provider to go with are huge.

My best advice here is to say that you need to research as much as possible. Don’t just blindly make a choice based on emotion or random luck. When I need to make important financial decisions, I often go to The Simple Dollar. It is a fantastic blog with tons of advice and tips on making smart financial choices. They’ve been featured in places like Forbes Magazine and Time Magazine. A good example of their work is a recent guide they put together on The Best Mortgage Lenders. The person who reads this is way more likely to make the right call when it comes time to buy a home, and that may lead to hundreds if not thousands of dollars of savings.

To recap Step 5: When it comes to the big decisions in life, buying a home, going to university, or investing in the stock market, you absolutely need to spend time researching before jumping to a conclusion.

Step 6: Track Future Progress with a Proper Budget

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OK, if you’ve followed the first 5 steps, you are now well ahead of most other people. Step 6 is how we maintain our success. You need to make a monthly budget and you need to track your expenses. This doesn’t have to be hard. You can use a free service like Mint to stay on top of your monthly progress.

Tracking is valuable because it makes sure you don’t slide into old bad habits or get of course from your goals.

To recap Step 6: Don’t lose your progress through neglect. Track your monthly progress manually or with a free online program to make sure are staying on target.

Step 7: Relax and Trust the Process

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Whew! We made it to the end. Great work!

Remember at the start of the article, we mentioned that money problems may cause stress, health problems, relationship difficulties and even depression? Don’t let that happen to you. If you have followed the 6 steps, if you are in periodic contact with a certified financial adviser, and if you working to improve day-by-day, then relax and trust the process you are on. I’m proud of you for taking on this challenge and I believe that you have what it takes to succeed! Good luck!

Please share this guide on your favorite social media site and let’s make this the moment that we start improving our financial lives 🙂

Why You Should Already Be Blogging & How to Start Your Blog

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Benjamin Franklin once said, “Write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” Today, we’ll learn how to do both by exploring the topic of blogging. If you want to improve your life this year, you absolutely should be writing your own blog. Why? Well, let’s look at a few of the benefits of blogging first and then I’ll show you how to get started. It’s damn easy and if you’d like, after you read this post, you will know how to have your own blog up and running in just a few minutes. But first, let’s see the reasons you should be blogging.

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You will Improve Many Skills

Spelling. Grammar. Storytelling. Using your computer for more than just web-surfing. You will learn a lot of skills by creating and maintaining a blog. A lot of those skills – communication, tech, marketing – are in big demand. So today’s hobby can lead to tomorrow’s promotion. Speaking of which . . .

You will Improve Your Career

If you blog about a topic related to your career, 2 things will happen. First people will begin to perceive you as a thought-leader in your field. They will come to see you as the person who knows a lot about your job and industry. This can lead to networking opportunities, chances for promotion, and even new job offers. Secondly, you actually will become more of an expert in your field. You cannot help but know a great deal about your business when you are writing about it frequently.

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You May Make Money!

If your blog becomes popular, you will be able to make money selling ad spaces, providing affiliate links, or selling your own products like ebooks. I will be writing future posts explaining how each of these methods work. April was the first full month of this blog and it already earned over $100. I ain’t getting rich yet, but it’s nice to earn a bit of reward from your hard work, and once I implement some other monetization strategies, I expect this website to become very rewarding. I’ll share all these tips with you in future posts, so stay tuned!

Anyway, how do we get started? You can make a simple website with WordPress. If you want to make something beautiful and more personalized, try Strikingly. It’s simple to use and creates stunningly beautiful websites. They have an amazing feature which allows you to convert information from a Facebook page (great for small businesses) into a website or convert information from a LinkedIn profile (great for job-seekers) in a website.

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Another tip for getting started – If you use WordPress or Blogspot or one of the basic blogging services, your website address will include their name. Your site will be something like http://www.improvemylifethisyear.wordpress.com. Not so sexy. If you really want full ownership of what you create and the most professional image, you should get your own domain name and host. It’s simple and inexpensive and dramatically increases your level of control and status in the eyes of readers. There are many to choose from, but many bloggers eventually settle on Blue Host. Why? Here’s what Blue Host brings to the table for bloggers around the world.

Bluehost was founded in 2003 with one goal: to make a better hosting company. Built on open source technology, they’ve since grown to become one of the world’s largest providers of online solutions. Bluehost is a top recommended host by WordPress and also proudly supports many other open source programs. Blue Host provides . . .

Money-back guarantee
1 FREE domain registration
Unlimited domain hosting
1-Click MOJO Marketplace installations
Free drag-and-drop site builder
Unlimited disk storage
Unlimited IMAP & POP3 e-mail support
Industry-leading technical support located in the USA.
24/7 chat, email and phone support for customers.

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How to Make Your Blog Successful

I won’t complicate things. There are really only 3 things you need for success.

  1. Write (a lot). You just need to churn out a lot of writing. Readers keep coming back to a site when they know it routinely is updated with fresh content. You need to post frequently. I make multiple posts per week here on this site. You might post less frequently, but at the very least, you need to get an article up per week.
  2. Write well. You don’t have to have a degree in English to write a blog. But at the very least, try to avoid simple errors that damage your credibility. I use Grammarly to keep my writing crisp, clear, and error-free. They have a free version and a paid version, depending on how hard-core you want to be about your writing.
  3. Wait a lot. It takes time to build up an audience. It takes time for Google to respect your site as well. So don’t give up in those dark, lonely early months of your blog. If you keep at it, you will see progress. A previous site I launched that I no longer add content to continues to grow now thanks to some love from Google bringing me search traffic. But at the beginning, I was writing a lot and getting very little traffic. That’s normal, expect it, and don’t get discouraged. Results will come!

This post is very brief, but I promise to deliver some future posts that will dive into much more details. I look forward to sharing all the things I’ve learned thus far.

But enough reading me. Start writing your blog now!

Jamie

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How to Save More Money in 6 Simple Ways

So you want to save more money. Good! No man is truly free if he doesn’t have financial freedom. Learning how to save money is one of the best things you can do this year to improve your life. Even if you hate math and don’t know a thing about the stock market, today’s post will have you saving a lot more money with a few simple steps.

  1. Prioritize your Savings – You probably are saving whatever you have left at the end of a paycheck, and that is a problem. You are subconsciously telling yourself that on the totem pole of priorities, savings lies dead last. Flip it around, and set aside savings on the day you get paid. Remember, savings are essentially the money you pay yourself, so damn, make yourself a priority!
  2. Protect your Savings – You need to open a separate bank account to put your savings in. Otherwise, it is too easy to wind up spending that money in moments of need or low willpower. Make it as difficult as possible to access the money and you’ll be more likely to keep your savings safe and growing.
  3. Find Additional Savings – Write down everything you spend for one month. It is a sobering exercise. I try this one month per year, and while it is a bit annoying to maintain for a month, it is very revealing. For example, the first time I ran the experiment, I found that I spent more on drinks and dinner with friends each month than I did on groceries and gym membership. I claimed my priorities were learning how to prepare healthy, homemade meals and getting into great shape, but my spending habits told a different story. I immediately decided to spend 50% less on going out and that freed up money for savings.
  4. Reward Yourself – Set goals and celebrate when you reach milestones. Don’t guilt yourself into saving more; make it an exciting challenge and savor the victories each month. Print out a chart color it in as your savings grow.
  5. Get a Partner – Tell one of your frugal friends that you are going to start saving more and share ideas with each other. Peer pressure can be a powerful motivator that keeps you on target even while your willpower temporarily sags.
  6. Get Smart about Saving – I absolutely love Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Makeover. If one of your goals this year is to become financially fit (and it should be one of your goals) then you can do no better than to start with this New York Times bestselling book on financial fitness. His advice helped me pay off my graduate school loans and get onto solid financial footing and can do the same for you.

To your daily growth!

Jamie

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