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June 2009

The summer following graduation is an interesting time for recently-former students. The newly-commenced young men and women, those not opting to pursue an additional number of years in an institution of higher learning, spend their time amongst activities such as attending backyard barbecues in celebration of their achievements, traveling to distant lands with newfound free time, and possibly beginning the first real job on their career path.

Not every job is the same, but for the most part there are a number of things in common.

  • You need to make a positive impression on people you are meeting for the first time.
  • How you perform on your first job sets the stage for your work ethic.
  • If you stay in the same career throughout your life, your initial salary will be your most important negotiation.

Here are more specific tips for making the most of your first job.

1. Look the part. As much as it is superficial and stupid, people will judge you by your appearance. You need to dress and carry yourself in a manner that is expected and accepted by the people who work in your field. What is acceptable varies. If you work in banking in New York City, it’s almost guaranteed you will be expected to show up in a suit every day. If you work in the graphic arts, more liberal clothing might be acceptable. Find out what your manager or supervisor wears and emulate.

If you have not been accumulating attire during college, you may find the need to buy a variety of clothing at the last minute. This is one reason it may make sense to accept a controllable level of debt. Attire is a start-up cost associated with accepting a first job, and if you are required to dress well, your salary should cover these costs before long.

2. Negotiate. Graduates may be experiencing a “sellers’ market” while starting new careers this summer. With stories of the difficulty of finding a great job in the right field, it may be tempting to jump at the first offer. It is true that times like this call for adjusted expectations, but the dance of negotiation is an important and expected part of every job offer.

Not every job has this flexibility. For example, if you start as a teacher in New York City, your salary and benefits are determined by the union contract and you have no room for negotiation. If your first job is with a cash-strapped non-profit organization, you may face resistance. But the first salary offer you receive is almost always lower than the company’s true ability to pay.

The best suggestion is to be prepared to support your desire for a higher salary by researching your peers’ compensation and by explaining well the skills you can bring to the table above other candidates. As you may not have much experience in your field when you start your first job, you may not have a list of accomplishments, so be creative while being honest.

Here are tips for dealing with a low salary offer. Remember to look at the total compensation, not just the salary. You may have more wiggle room if you ask for more vacation days or for quicker establishment of your retirement benefits.

3. Enroll in your company’s retirement plan. When I started at the company where I currently work, I qualified for the company’s 401(k) on the day I began. Although a portion of my company’s matching contributions wouldn’t vest (become officially mine) until I had been working there for three years, my first paycheck included a deduction for my 401(k) and a matching contribution from the company. While enrollment is often automatic, some companies don’t start helping you put aside money for retirement until you tell them how much you want taken out of your paycheck.

Young adults with their first job often do not think about retirement, an event likely to be more than forty years in the future. Not enrolling in a 401(k) with matching contributions is the same as throwing away money. I understand that people who are just establishing themselves at work and in life have expenses, and retirement savings cuts into income. But putting aside two or four percent of your income — or up to the maximum matched by your employer — should not be a stretch.

4. Open an IRA. Your 401(k) contributions are taken right from your paycheck, so you might not even notice your money is being transferred to your future self. It may be more painful to your wallet to open an IRA, but if there is no pain, there is no gain. So open an IRA at a low-cost brokerage like Vanguard. When I started my IRA, I didn’t have the $3,000 minimum, so I jumped right in with TIAA Cref. I suggest saving money periodically in a special bank account until you have the $3,000 necessary to open an account at Vanguard because I have encountered some problems with TIAA-Cref.

If you already have a 401(k), open a Roth IRA. These two types of accounts have different tax treatment, and it’s good to diversify. If your company does not offer a 401(k) or its non-profit cousin the 403(b), split your money between a Traditional and Roth IRAs, if you can, to get the same tax diversification.

Your career and the skills and tools you use to thrive in that career are your biggest assets, even though you won’t see them measured on any balance sheet. Protect, refine, and showcase your self and your skills when you can. If your career is important to you, go above and beyond the call of duty.


In the tenth episode of the Consumerism Commentary Podcast, Tom Dziubek interviews Jim Wang and Erica Douglass. Jim Wang is the creator of Bargaineering and Grill Maestro, and in today’s interview, Tom and Jim discuss a variety of tips for creating a successful and frugal barbecue for July 4.

Erica Douglass is a business success blogger who sold her first business for $1 million. She coaches small businesses at Erica.biz. Tom, Erica, and I discuss her entrepreneurial experiences with building her own business and suggestions for anyone who would like to prosper while self-employed.

To listen, use the player above (Adobe Flash required), download the podcast here, subscribe to the podcast RSS feed, or use the iTunes link. Note: open links in a new window (Ctrl-click or Command-click) to avoid interrupting the podcast.

[00:00] Introduction from Flexo
[00:51] Interview with Jim Wang
[01:25] — Bargain tips for grill shoppers
[02:22] — Charcoal grilling
[04:12] — Preventive maintenance for grills
[06:38] — Meat buying tips
[09:25] — Other cheap ways to keep guests happy
[11:03] Interview with Erica Douglass
[11:44] — Erica’s teenage job
[13:07] — How Erica made a million dollars
[17:04] — Obstacles Erica faced in starting her company
[19:46] — Successful personality traits in entrepreneurs
[20:37] — Tips for aspiring entrepreneurs looking to beat poor startup success rates
[21:35] — More tips for entrepreneurs
[23:03] — Business goals for entrepreneurs
[24:23] — How Erica’s handling semi-retirement
[27:41] End


Flexo: Welcome to Episode 10 of the Consumerism Commentary Podcast. I’m Flexo. In today’s episode Tom Dziubek speaks with Jim Wang from GrillMaestro.com and Bargaineering.com about saving money on your summer barbeque. And after the break I join Tom to speak with Erica Douglass, business success blogger from erica.biz.


Tom Dziubek: Welcome to the Consumerism Commentary Podcast. I’m Tom Dziubek. Ah, summertime, when the air is filled with the sounds of kids playing and the smell of hotdogs and hamburgers cooking on the grill.

Up to this point most people’s grills have only gotten a moderate workout, but with the Fourth of July closing in on us, many people’s grills are about to go into overtime. But what if you are on a budget? Are there any ways you can save money and still keep you friends satisfied and entertained?

Today we’re talking to Jim Wang, founder of GrillMaestro.com and also of personal finance website bargaineering.com. Jim, thanks for joining us.

Jim Wang: Thanks for having me on the program.

Tom: Jim, let’s start with grills since, well, since it’s hard to host a barbecue without one. This may be the best time for some people to seek a replacement for their existing grill will either be that they discovered it doesn’t work anymore. Maybe that it’s just too small. Do you have any good bargain tips for people going grill shopping?

Jim: I always like going with a charcoal grill. I usually find that charcoal grills are cheaper because if you go get one of those Weber grills it’s a very simple system. It kind of looks like a can and it’s got an area for the coals. You got the grill and you got the cover.

You can really get one of the smaller ones for $20 or $30, even larger maybe $50 or $60, something like that. When you get into the propane it starts getting a little more expensive because of the systems involved. But if you want to get really simple get the Weber Grill and it’s generally very cheap, very easy to put together.

Tom: So go with simple charcoal then. I guess you are a big fan of charcoal?

Jim: I’m a fan of charcoal.

Tom: Is it just because of the cost or because you like the flavor of charcoal grilling?

Jim: I like the flavor of charcoal grilling. Some people think that propane is a lot easier to manage because all you need to do is turn a switch and light it and away you go. But I find that charcoal gives you the ability to get a little closer to the cooking process.

While it may take a little more time to get the coals going and things spread out, you get a little more control over everything. So, I’m a big fan. Also the cost. You really can’t beat getting a $30 or $40 grill and being able to cook as well as a propane grill that may cost you $100 or $150 to $200.

Tom: Do they make charcoal grills big enough to keep people satisfied or at least allow the chef to cook a lot of burgers and hot dogs at one time?

Jim: Yes, they definitely do. They have charcoal grills that are as big or bigger than propane. Because really, I mean, part of the reason is because when working with charcoal, manufacturers are aware that people that cook with charcoal are probably savvier with the grill. And so they can get larger and larger. All your competition grillers, barbecuers, they are always using these huge monstrosities of grills, and those are all charcoal.

Tom: Oh, really? Interesting.

Jim: Yeah, because there’s the stigma with propane, because propane is just a gas. It’s a sense that there is no love in it.

Tom: Right.

Jim: You buy the tank and while I like our propane grill because it’s quick. You turn it on. You are ready to go in a few minutes. Then you shut it off and then you leave. You don’t have to worry about the coals cooling down and the safety issues of that. But I think charcoal is where it is if you want to go budget.

Tom: Let’s stick with charcoal grills here. Let’s talk about preventive maintenance on these grills. What do people need to be concerned about for the long-term health of these grills, be it on a day to day basis? Oh, I guess charcoal grills are pretty easy to maintain considering all you are going to deal with is the charcoal briquettes and perhaps the lighter fluid, right?

Jim: Yeah. The basics are pretty simple. The one thing you have to be careful of and this is true for propane and charcoal grills is keeping the grill grates clean.

That’s the number one maintenance tip for any type of grill. And what’s nice is that since charcoal grills are so simple, even if you do let gunk get stuck on it and it rusts and you don’t feel like using it again, you can buy a replacement fairly cheaply at like Target, Wal-Mart or even going to Home Depot.

I think maintenance on propane grills is a little trickier because of all the things that are involved. You have the burners. You have the fuel lines. You have…

Tom: The ignition.

Jim: The ignition, the grease trap. So you really need to be careful about keeping that stuff clean. I have a funny story about some preventative maintenance that I didn’t do, which is the most basic in a propane grill and that’s emptying the grease trap.

What happened was I got sent a leg of lamb and it has all this fat on it. And I didn’t want of the cut it off because that’s where all the good flavor is is in that fat. So I put it on the grill and I closed the lid. It’s dripping, the fat’s just dripping down like I opened up a faucet or something. It caught on fire.

It hit the grease trap and that caught on fire and then it melted the lining for the grease trap because there’s a little bit of rubber underneath so that if there were any spillover it doesn’t spill down. That dripped down to the fuel line. And this was all because I didn’t clean out the grease trap prior to using it.

Tom: Now, let’s talk about what cleaning out the grease trap usually entails. I know my grease trap looks like an empty can of green beans that just hangs from the bottom of the grill.

Jim: Yeah, for most it is. Unfortunately on the design of the grill that I bought it is actually a really large plate that isn’t very deep. And that’s probably the most poorly designed grease trap I had seen.

And I didn’t think about it when I was getting the grill but normally all you do is you slide it out and it looks like a can. It’s usually very deep and you just go over to the trash and you pour it out or wherever you dispose of grease.

Tom: Let’s talk about meat. Most people are hot dogs, hamburger-cookers, sometimes steak. Are there any good recommendations that you have for purchasing meat for your barbecue? Maybe you would be able to find bargains. Any other cheap cuts of meat that might be good and still wind up impressing your friends?

Jim: I am always a fan of barbecuing chicken. I love making wings on the grill. That smoky flavor really adds a lot to chicken and we like to do sides, thighs, drumsticks, any of that stuff. You put it in some barbecue and then you put it on the grill.

One thing to be careful of is that barbecue sauce does have sugar and it burns very easily. So if you leave it on to long it’ll just burn to a crisp without actually cooking the chicken itself.

Tom: Interesting.

Jim: Some other things, if you are not having a very large group, fish is something that we love doing also. You get one of those baskets and you put some salmon steaks on there, and those turn out pretty well. Another great thing, again with fish, cedar planks, we love doing this with salmon and you just get some cedar planks, you soak them in water for about 45 minutes beforehand, and then you put it on the grill and put the salmon steaks on top, and it really pushes in a lot of that cedar flavor.

Tom: Interesting.

Jim: But with fish, it is not something you want to do if you’re having a big party with like a dozen or 20 people.

Tom: How easy is it to put on cedar planks, are they something that you would just lay on top of the grate or would you actually go and remove the grate and lay the planks down in its place, or would that just burn?

Jim: That will just burn. Yah.

Tom: Yeah, I figured.

Jim: You will leave the grate on, and then put the planks on.

Tom: Yeah, important tip. If you use cedar planks, leave the grate on.

Jim: Yeah. Otherwise when you come back it’ll have smoldered and you’ll just taste smoke, which is probably not ideal.

Tom: One thing I did notice too now, is a good tip that I’ve used in the past, most people will go when planning their barbeque, they’ll go and purchase their meat a couple days ahead of time so they don’t have to worry about it on the day of the barbeque. However, I’ve noticed that in many cases you go to a grocery store, the meat manager will go and mark down any meat that is due to expire that day, or at least have a sell by date of the day you’re purchasing it on. I’ve saved up to like 50 percent in some cases on just buying ground meat.

Jim: Yep. They do that a lot. And they’re just trying to get — this is all stuff that is still good.

Tom: Right.

Jim: It is just getting to the last couple of days. The supermarkets know that you are going to buy it; you are probably going to stick in the fridge for a day or two, maybe. And so they want to get rid of these things now before you take it home and it gets bad.

So you go in, and you will get like a dollar off, two dollars off, three dollars a purchase, and that will save you money, especially if you are just going to use it that night.

Tom: Absolutely. Now anything else that you recommend for keeping your guest entertained and satisfied without spending a whole lot of money?

Jim: I always find that getting creative with your simple basic hamburger is always a fun way to go. I had a friend who has this great recipe. What he does is he gets some cheese and some jalapenos, which will work if you are a fan of hot and spicy food; and he takes the ground meat and he wraps it around the cheese so that it kind of cooks and melts at the same time.

Tom: Wow.

Jim: I guess it’s an inside out cheese burger with a bit of jalapeno in it.

Tom: Hey, trust me, you can never go wrong with jalapeno on something. And, you know, that’s just my personal preference too.

Jim: Me, too. I love spicy food. And I think its part of that creativity. You know, you can start asking for friends: “What sort of burgers do you like?” and start making these unique little style type burgers.

It can be as simple as getting some onions, green peppers; chopping it up, adding some Worcester, some soy, some garlic powder and just mashing that up into a burger. And it’s not expensive, because ground beef is usually fairly cheap relative to steaks and other things. So you can always go that route.

Tom: Jim, thanks for taking time out to talk to us today.

Jim: It was a pleasure. I had a great time.

Tom: That was Jim Wang, founder of Grillmaestro.com; and also of personal finance website Bargaineering.com. This is Tom Dziubek, and thanks for joining us on the Consumerism Commentary Podcast. Stay tuned, after the break we will be talking to Business Success Blogger, Erica Douglass.

Tom: Welcome to the Consumerism Commentary Podcast. I am Tom Dziubek. With unemployment numbers still on the rise, it’s allowed many people to take that extra time available to them and focus on their hobbies. Some entrepreneurial spirits may have taken their hobbies and turned them into side businesses for a little extra cash. And with a little more spare time on their hands, may now be thinking about making that side business a full time job.

Today we are talking to Erica Douglass of Business Success Blogger who coaches startup businesses through her website, erica.biz.

Erica, thanks for joining us today.

Erica Douglass: Hi, thanks.

Tom: On the other mic here at Diced Rhino Studios in lovely Hamilton Square is Flexo, founder of some startup called Consumerism Commentary. Flexo, thanks for making the trip out here.

Flexo: You bet.

Tom: Erica, I was looking at your bio out of your website. It seems you have a nose for making money, even at a young age. Now how did a 14-year-old girl from Indiana find a way to earn some impressive scratch in 1995?

Erica: I started looking for jobs that allowed me to work for home and even in 1995 on the Internet most work-from-home jobs were scams. You know, the old envelope stuffing and all of that stuff that really doesn’t actually work; you just send the money. But my parents coached me on how to find one. They said basically, "If they want you to send them money then it’s a scam." [laughter]

And I said, “Oh, I got it!” So I went on – I think it’s now CareerBuilder, but it was something else back then. I don’t remember the name of it. It was a website. And there was a search engine optimization company that was looking for people to work from home to submit websites for search engines. So guess who got to fill out the forms? That was me. And they paid me pretty well to do that.

Tom: Yeah, especially if you are 14 years old. I mean that’s really impressive. And it beats flipping burgers at the local Burger King.

Erica: Yeah, I got paid per contract. It turned out to be about $12.50 an hour. Of course, it depended on how fast I could hit that control C, control V, copy, paste, copy, paste. But I got to the point where I could do it really quickly and I could use a lot of keyboard shortcuts.

Tom: Let’s flash forward here a little bit. How did you get to make a million dollars?

Erica: It takes a while. I don’t want to mislead anybody. I think people assume that I started this business and then like a year later I sold it for a million dollars. That would be a real cool story. But it actually took me about six years to build my business to a million dollars.

Flexo: And that is still pretty quick. Was this business related to the search engine submissions or was this something else?

Erica: It is interesting that you ask that. The business that I started, that I eventually sold for a million dollars, was a web hosting company. So just in case we have any non technical people out there, what…my friend, who also runs a web hosting company, calls us "Internet plumbers." We are the people who make the websites on the Internet work. We host the backend of websites.

So all of the images and text that you see on a website has to be hosted somewhere on a computer, and that’s exactly what we did. We had a space in a big data center and we put up hundreds of servers. And it started out where I was doing web design and web development work; I was a guru PHP programmer. My clients needed some place to host their websites. And I had had really terrible experiences with a lot of hosting companies.

That’s a pretty common story. There are a lot of really bad hosting companies out there and only a few really good ones.

Tom: I am sure Flexo can tell you stories.

Erica: [laughs] Yeah, I am sure. Every tech person who has had to deal with a large traffic website has had to deal with a crappy hosting company. So the hosting company I had, had, the owners ex wife had literary walked off with my server. So I had this piece of hardware, the server of this computer, in their data center. And they divorced and she got mad and she stole his keys and grabbed his truck and took off with all the servers. [laughs]

I kid you not. I was really upset because all my data was gone. I had backups. But unfortunately my backups didn’t work. So this is my terrible experience. So when my clients started asking me, "Well, what hosting company can you recommend?" I was really leery, because here had had one that the guys ex wife had just walked in and stolen my server.

So I decided to start my own hosting company. And I was working at the time or I just stopped working for a start-up company that some of the techies might remember called cobalt networks. We made little blue servers; we made little cubes and racks, or what they were called. I was IT support at cobalt. And in exchange for doing some IT work for some of the sales guys, they had given me a couple of cobalt servers.

And since they were great for web hosting, I found a local data center and set them up and I told my clients: "Well, tell you what. I will host your websites for you."

And I did. And we grew from two servers to 14 to 16 to 80 to 100; and it just kept growing and growing. I was really surprised. But people wanted a hosting company where they could come meet you face-to-face. You know hosting companies are typically run by either geeks, who want to hide out in the server room and they don’t want to meet anybody, or, they are run by super uber business people, who are like the Wal-Mart of hosting companies, you know, they outsource everything, low-cost this, and you never get to meet anybody face to face.

So really what I started to thrive on was meeting my customers. And since I lived in Silicon Valley and my hosting company was based in San Jose, I got a lot of Silicon Valley’s hottest startups to come host with us, and as they grew we grew and we become more profitable. So eventually I was able to sell the business for over a million dollars.

Tom: What obstacles did you have to overcome in building your company? I am assuming you didn’t have to worry about marital spats, at least in that respect.

Erica: I have stayed single; I am not married. There are many obstacles. A lot of people ask me a question and they say, "Well, how was it that you were able to build your business to a million dollars when so many other companies, including most hosting companies fail?" And I see it as a difference in the way I ran my business. I was committed to running my business fulltime, and I was committed to making sure that my customers were happy. And I don’t see that commitment in the majority of business owners.

Most business owners… there seem to be two extremes. I was actually writing a blog post about this, but I haven’t got it quite flushed out yet. There’s the one extreme where you just want to make money as fast as you possibly can, and that’s not going to work. And then there is the other extreme where you are like really passionate about a topic but you have no idea how to make any money with it, and that really doesn’t work either.

And so you have got both of these. And lot of people making money catering to the people who have a passion, and then a lot of making money catering to the people who just want to make a lot of money really quick, but neither of those are really the total successful path. You have to have a passion about something, but you have to be willing to turn it into a business and market it full-time and take that leap.

Tom: You received an investment from your family that helped you build your company, would you have been able to be successful without that investment?

Erica: Looking back, I started my company in July 2001 and I received the investment from my parents, which was actually the money my grandmother left to my dad when she died and my dad did not need the money so he gave it to me in exchange for me writing a business plan which I had not done previously. [laughter]

So, I had to write a business plan, I had to learn how to do that and I did. So, in September 2002, they made that investment. So, my hosting company was all ready growing really well but since I was really young, I probably would not have qualified for a typical bank loan.

Now, that I am older and have an established credit, I probably would be able to just get a bank loan or something like that, which I highly recommend, by the way — the Small Business Administration, if you are in the US; there are lots of banks willing to lend to small businesses — if you are the owner and you have a good credit history. My company did end up getting a Small Business Administration line of credit as well later on. But, yeah, taking the money from my parents helped me grow the business faster. I do think it would have been as successful with or without the money, I just think it would have taken longer to get there.

Flexo: Are there some personality traits that lend a person to being an entrepreneur a little more than someone else? I guess I should ask, are there certain ways that people can look at themselves differently and determine that they have some entrepreneurial spirit within them, or are there just certain personality types that this would not be a good option for?

Erica: I think the main personality trait you are going to find in any successful entrepreneur is confidence, and it is confidence that their venture is going to work and that they have the right solution for a certain number of people. You have to be willing. When somebody comes to you and says, "Hey, I need an xyz provider," you say, "Hey, we can do that," [laughs] and if you cannot do that, be the first one to say, "Well, you know what, that is not really who we are but here is somebody who can help you."

Tom: Success rates for starting businesses, unless you happen to be in the Silicon Valley during the Internet boom, they are pretty low. Now, what do you suggest for aspiring entrepreneurs who would like to beat the odds and succeed with their business?

Erica: Well just to clarify, I was in Silicon Valley during the Internet boom. I moved here to San Jose in 1999 and I think it would have been harder to start a company in 1999 than it was when I started it in 2001. I started a company at perhaps the worst month ever [laughter] in the history of the United States to start a company, July 2001, because if you remember what happened a few months later was September and everything crashed. So here we are, all ready locked into long-term contracts in July and then September happens, and wow, everything is suddenly called off. So, it was really rough. I do not think it was easy to start a company then.

Tom: Do you have any good tips for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to start their own business?

Flexo: You mentioned some things all ready like being dedicated to working full time at their own business and keeping their customers happy, but what other specific suggestions do you have?

Erica: I think you have to learn marketing and you have to know sales and you have to be OK with sales. I certainly was not OK with sales when I started. I think a lot of people have a mis-perception of sales because they feel that sales is that slimy dude at the used car dealership when you walk in the door he is trying to sell you a crappy car that does not run and he is trying to make it look like a brand new Mercedes and people think, “Well I do not want to do that,” and I say, “Right, I would not either.” Sales to me is about finding what your customer wants and then seeing if you fit there, and if you do, being confident enough to make the offer and learning how to market your business is key too.

My new business will be teaching people how to market their business online through blogs and other tools. I have learned a lot about how to market my business online but how to market your business online is just one part of it; it is knowing where your customers are, it is knowing how to reach them, maybe it is by telephone solicitations, maybe it is direct mail, maybe it is setting up a blog and setting up an email list, but you have got to figure out where customers are and then go to them.

Flexo: You managed to build your company and sell to a larger company for a good amount of money. Is that the goal that most entrepreneurs should look to for their own business, and if so what do they do after that point?

Erica: I think there are two options. I think that one option is to build what is popularly coined now is a lifestyle business, and I think Tim Ferriss started that but I could be wrong, I think the lifestyle business is one where it is flexible for you, it works around your schedule, and it makes you a significant amount of income. It might be a full-time income for a business that you only have to work to a few hours a week on.

The key with a lifestyle business is finding the right people and then outsourcing to them, making it look very good to your customers and making sure that the people that you outsource to are extremely high quality. So, there are lots of lifestyle businesses and then there are businesses that you can build and sell.

So, I think you need to determine, when you start your business, do you want a lifestyle business that you can run for the rest of your life casually, or do you want a business that you can sell for a few million dollars and then live off the net proceeds? It is up to you. I do not think there is one right or wrong way to do it. It is just something that you need to think about when you are starting your business.

Tom: Erica, you are semi-retired. How are you handling your un-retired part of life right now? What are you doing with yourself?

Erica: I am writing on my blog at erica.biz. Unfortunately, recently, I have been dealing with some health problems and the good news is I have been seeing a nutritionist and it appears that my body is not regulating insulin properly. So what that means is I am really tired all the time. It has been getting progressively worse and I am finally on some supplements that are helping me to feel better. In fact, this has just been the past two or three days.

The retired part of me was really figuring out, after I sold my business and I had released this huge mound of stress from my life, figuring out who I am beyond my business and how to cope with being just me and not the owner of a hosting company. I think it is difficult to diagnose health problems when you are really stressed and what I did recently was I went to a conference, I spoke at the conference, for the first time, I pitched from the front of the stage. I sold a product while I was on stage.

I was very successful with that. I sold to 11 new customers. I got home, I started working on the product, trying to get my customers in the door and basically collapsed from exhaustion. It was really difficult.

The blog post I am working on now is how to deal with that sort of thing when it hits your business. My customers have been really supportive of me, thankfully, and I have been in communication with them about it. I think communication is really the key to ensuring that things do not go really badly, if something personally bad happens to you…

Tom: Right.

Erica: … you have to be constantly talking to your customers, constantly saying, “This is the status today.” Do not feel like you are talking to them too much. There really is not a point of too much communication. At least once a day you should be in contact with them saying, “This is what is going on with me today.”

The good news is they are extremely supportive and I have been able to retain all of them as customers, they are not upset with me, as far as I can tell, and they are excited to get their blogs up and running. That was the product I sold, was called “Turn Your Blog into a Business,” which I will be releasing online. It is just important to communicate with them. That is what I discovered and I am really pleased that they have all stuck it out with me and I am really pleased that I feel like now I am on the right track toward health again.

Tom: Erica, thanks for taking time out to talk to us today.

Erica: Sure, I am happy to. Thank you.

Tom: That was Erica Douglass, a Business Success Blogger who coaches startup businesses via her website, erica.biz. This is Tom Dziubek along with Flexo and thank you for joining us in the Consumerism Commentary Podcast. [music]


Håkan Djuphammar, VP of Systems Architecture for Ericsson, made a prediction recently that all new mobile phones sold after Summer 2010 would have two-way RFID chips in them that would allow them to act as a tag or a reader.

If what you just read sounds like technobabble, watch this short news excerpt to get up to speed. Even if you’re not interested in technology, you should learn about the possibilities and the dangers of RFID:

Back to the mobile phone: yes, it would be perfectly easy for all mobile phones on the planet to have an RFID tag/scanner in them. The possibilities for making use of RFID, like the numbering scheme itself, are practically endless. People in Asia use their mobile phones to buy drinks from vending machines all the time, and according to Djuphammar:

the chip might also be used by credit card companies to track the location of cardholders to cut down on fraud.

This was followed up on the Wired Magazine article about this story with a great user comment:

So, the myriad of privacy concerns aside, does this mean I won’t be able to use my credit card if I leave my phone at home?

RFID doesn’t inherently scare me. I already use one in the keyfob for my car when unlocking the door and starting the engine. It raises ethical concerns, and I think we should plan our next moves carefully. We don’t have a great history of moving carefully forward (people still drive without seatbelts all the time), which is one of the reasons I’m hoping you’ll educate yourself and your friends about this starting today.

If you have the means and the time, I highly recommend the book Everyware: the dawning age of ubiquitous computing, which not only details many possibilities for taking advantage of RFID, it also contains a great starting point for a positively ethical “post-PC” future (including some really neat new icons).

RFID-Enabled Phones Could Let Credit Card Companies Track Users, Kim Zetter, Wired Magazine, June 25, 2009


Overall, the worst of the economic recession may be over in terms of unemployment. If it isn’t, or even if it is, many companies are still struggling as they find ways to cut costs. The next expense that might be cut could be your job. If you receive the pink slip after missing the signs pointing towards the loss of your job then you have some catching up to do.

There is nothing like an expected bout of unemployment to remind you of the benefits of a fully-funded emergency fund. With cash in the bank, you can sit back at the beginning of your time away from working and approach your situation without stress. Stress will cloud your perception and cause you to make choices based on your short-term circumstances rather than your long-term aspirations.

Speaking of long-term aspirations, I’ll start there in a short exploration of suggestions for using your newly found free time effectively.

1. Re-evaluate your life goals. And if you don’t have proper life goals, now it a good time to think about it. A real life goal is not the specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based (SMART) goal that you hear about in corporate development retreats. Leave that to the MBAs. A life goal relates more to what the MBAs mean when they say “mission” and “vision.” (Disclaimer: I, too, am an MBA.)

So what is your mission? Here are a few things that it should not be:

  • acquire a net worth of x by the age of y
  • retire by the year z
  • own my own business

All of these examples are means to an end, not goals in and of themselves. Your goal should explain what you will do with your money, what you will do with your time in retirement, or what you will do with your business. They need not be lofty, but life goals should not focus on numbers.

After you determine your mission, you have the opportunity to make decisions about your career, money, and time that align with that mission. If you need some more motivation, here are 9 tips for choosing a purpose in life.

2. Determine the steps for reaching your goal. With your goal or goals in mind, brainstorm your next steps. The only materials you need here are pen and paper. If you think hierarchically, create an outline in which your main points are the major milestones you’ll need to cross to reach your goals and the next level contain the tasks you will need to accomplish to reach those milestones. If you do not operate in this organized manner, just write down everything that crosses your mind when you think about what you need to reach your goal.

Even if your thoughts aren’t organized, determine the next step for your career. Your emergency fund won’t last forever. And here is what you need to keep your emergency fund as long as possible.

3. Get financial assistance. When you worked, you paid unemployment insurance premiums. Now is the time to be on the receiving end of the financial relationship with the state. Apply for unemployment insurance right away. Don’t stop to think about whether you need unemployment insurance with your emergency fund ready to help you out and with thousands of other people in more need. Unemployment is there for you, to make sure you have more freedom to prepare yourself for your next move.

You may also be entitled to health benefits through your former employer and COBRA. This means that you can still pay group rates for coverage rather than finding individual coverage. Group coverage can often be much less expensive, but you may find that you will still have to pay more than you did as an employee. Most companies subsidize or partially subsidize benefit premiums, and that subsidy disappears once you have left the company.

4. Make smart financial decisions. Here is a short checklist of the most important financial moves you can make while not working in addition to receiving unemployment and carrying over your benefits.

  • If this is an emergency situation, don’t be afraid to tap your emergency fund. This is why you have it.
  • With less income temporarily, take the opportunity to cut back on some luxuries. Evaluate your spending to determine where your opportunities are for reducing your expenses.
  • If you have a 401(k) managed by your previous employer, consider moving it to a Rollover IRA. In many cases, you will find that your options for investing within an IRA are better than what you can find in most employer-sponsored 401(k)s.
  • Don’t withdraw money from your retirement funds if you can help it. If you do, you will be required to pay taxes and penalties. It is not worth risking your future.

5. Refine your self-marketing package. It’s your move. If you have a goal in mind and you’re passionate about it, you’ll want to get back on track right away. Even if your goal hasn’t changed in step one, you have a chance to refine how you present yourself. Resumes and cover letters are not enough.

Even if you are not in a creative field, consider what examples of your work you might include in a portfolio. Just like a graphic designer won’t enter an interview without examples, don’t speak to anyone who has the ability to hire you without preparing some kind of presentation to showcase what you do, what you have achieved, and why you have what it takes.

6. Fashion yourself as an expert. This is part of your marketing package. A great way to establish yourself as an expert in your field is to publish articles in journals or magazines related to your profession. That’s the twentieth-century approach; today every writer is a publisher and every goal-seeker has the opportunity to show the world his expertise.

Start a blog, write frequently, and don’t stop. This works best if you possess writing skills, but you would be amazed at how many mediocre writers manage to find success. Find a community of bloggers who focus on your area of expertise and get to know the leaders of the group. Participate in discussions on their blogs, ask them for their advice, and give back to the community. Once you establish your online writing, look for opportunities to write for others, sharing your expertise to a wider audience. Don’t blog to earn money, blog to perfect your writing and give yourself public evidence of your passions.

7. Start networking with the right people without being obnoxious. Like Penelope Trunk from Brazen Careerist mentioned in last Sunday’s Consumerism Commentary Podcast (listen and subscribe if you haven’t already), sending a resume through an online job service is not enough. To get an advantage you need an “in.”

When someone I know is trying to “network” with me, I know it right away. They ask questions to determine my decision-making authority and anything else they feel I can do for them. Serial networkers tend to think only about themselves their needs; show more class by considering the larger picture, being empathetic, and showing your personal side.

8. Sharpen your skills. Your life goals may require you to establish new qualifications or credentials. There is nothing like time off to inspire you to enroll in a class, earn a new degree, or qualify for new certification. Above, while you were listing the steps for reaching your goal, education should have been at least one of the ideas you prescribed for yourself.

The great thing about pursuing additional educational opportunities, in addition to the knowledge you acquire, is it provides you with an answer to the question, “What were you doing between jobs?”

9. Start consulting. The steps for approaching your goals may lead you to working for yourself. But even if they don’t, start consulting in your field. With your blog established earlier, make it clear to the public that your expertise is available for a fee. You will have to do more than putting a billboard on your website, of course. Contact people, particularly the people with whom you networked in step seven, and ensure they are aware of your business.

Erica Douglass who writes at Erica.biz has a number of thoughts about creating a business identity for yourself online. In this upcoming weekend’s podcast, Erica has a number of suggestions for establishing your business as a self-employed individual. Her thoughts are destined for those permanently leaving the corporate world behind in favor of the make-your-own-rules lifestyle of an entrepreneur, but her suggestions will apply to those establishing themselves as a consultant as a means to advance their career and reach their ultimate goals.

10. Don’t lose confidence. Unemployment can be a financial and emotional strain on an individual and on a family. The good news is that all of these tips should keep you busy, and if you are busy, there is less opportunity to get drawn into negative feelings about your situation. Keep working, keep improving, and keep your ultimate goals in mind.


Survey Reveals Gender Gap in High School Seniors’ Financial Literacy?

by Luke Landes

Or maybe not. Capital One conducted a survey of high school seniors to determine how many of these young adults are prepared to handle finances on their own. The company asked the students to rate their own levels of knowledge of personal finance. The results may be interesting, but they don’t reveal anything about financial ... Continue reading this article…

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Goals Bring About Real Results

by Jeff

Do you have a 5-year financial plan? What about just a general idea? Do you know where you want to be financially in 25 years? Have you ever set a financial goal? If you decided you wanted to save $5,000 this year, could you do it? Far too often we get into situations where we ... Continue reading this article…

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Emotional Barriers to Negotiating and Haggling

by Luke Landes

It is in any consumer’s best interest to try to get the lowest price on all purchases, yet haggling, negotiating, or bargaining, at least in my culture, is not a social norm. Other than in specific situations such as buying a car that is not a “non-negotiable” brand like Saturn or Scion, haggling is uncommon. ... Continue reading this article…

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Podcast 9: Penelope Trunk from Brazen Careerist and Leo Babauta from Zen Habits

by Luke Landes

Penelope Trunk and Leo Babauta are today’s guests on the Consumerism Commentary Podcast. Penelope Trunk is the author of Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success and founder of the career advancement website Brazen Careerist. Tom Dziubek and I speak with Penelope about maintaining careers in today’s recession and she presents a number of tips ... Continue reading this article…

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The Cash for Clunkers Program

by Smithee

Editor’s note: The program which was once suspended is still available through Labor Day, 2009. Yesterday the U.S. Senate passed a War funding appropriations bill that paradoxically included a piece of legislation popularly referred to as the “Cash for Clunkers” program. In an earlier article where Flexo pointed out the weirdness of including “guns in ... Continue reading this article…

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Extending the $8,000 First-Time Home Buyer Credit to $15,000

by Luke Landes

Update: The first-time home buyer tax credit has been extended and expanded. Click here for the latest details. The information below is now out-dated. The Senate is considering a number of changes to the $8,000 first-time home buyers credit. Spurred on by Sen. Johnny Isakson from Georgia, the adjustments being considered seek to expand the ... Continue reading this article…

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Flexo’s Investment Portfolio, May 2009

by Luke Landes

Although I post my financial reports each month to keep myself accountable for my financial decisions, I have moved to summarizing my investments rather than listing all the details. My reports now simply separate my investments between retirement and non-retirement accounts. An important part of anyone’s finances is how investments are allocated among stocks, bonds, ... Continue reading this article…

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New Consumer Financial Regulation

by Luke Landes

The White House is proposing a realignment of the financial regulation that failed to prevent the latest recession, but will the proposals help protect consumers? There is a long way to go between the President’s proposal and the enactment of a law, but here are the highlights as the plan stands today. The Financial Services ... Continue reading this article…

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FDIC Steps In to Keep Ally Bank’s Interest Rates Lower

by Luke Landes

The American Bankers Association (ABA) has not been happy with Ally Bank. A few weeks ago, the organization on behalf of its member banks sent a letter to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation complaining about Ally’s interest rates. With Ally planning to receive bailout funds through its enrollment in the government’s Treasury Liquidity Guarantee Program ... Continue reading this article…

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Facial Recognition is for More Than Your Photos

by Smithee

Most of the time when you hear the term “facial recognition,” it’s used by people trying to attract you to a new digital camera, or software, or a plugin for Facebook. On an individual level, it’s little more than a way to help your camera focus, or group and search your photos. But if you’re ... Continue reading this article…

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Changes to Student Loans Coming July 1

by Luke Landes

While it’s great to avoid debt whenever possible, if you have to deal with federal student loans, including Stafford and PLUS loans, you might qualify for some better deals starting July 1. Interest rates will be at the lowest rates in years. If you can consolidate, lock in rates after July 1. They will be ... Continue reading this article…

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Podcast 8: Greg Grunberg on iPhone App Yowza!! and TalkAboutIt

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Today’s Consumerism Commentary Podcast features an interview with Greg Grunberg, star of the NBC television series Heroes and drummer in Band From TV, a celebrity band to benefit charities. Greg, Tom Dziubek, and I discuss Yowza!!, the new iPhone (and iPod Touch) app for saving money co-created by Greg. We also discuss Greg’s roles as ... Continue reading this article…

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Forbes Gets it Wrong About “Online-Only” Bank Accounts

by Luke Landes

This morning an article appeared on Forbes.com with suggestions and warnings about online-only accounts. I have to disagree with an important statement by the author of the article, Asher Hawkins. Hawkins is offering misguided information regarding the number of withdrawal transactions a customer is allowed to make from an account designated as a “savings” or ... Continue reading this article…

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When Going Into Debt is Worthwhile

by Luke Landes

On a macro level, debt was a force behind the incredible economic expansion over the past two centuries, and the availability of debt at the family level played a role as well. Despite all that debt has brought society, many financial gurus and authors vilify debt and explicitly call the idea of borrowing money “evil.” ... Continue reading this article…

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Let’s Stop Envying Millionaires

by Luke Landes

It is a shame that people are still fascinated with the idea of being a millionaire. According to an online etymology dictionary, the word “millionaire” was first seen in print in 1826, a year when having a net worth of one million dollars was an amazing accomplishment. An inflation calculator puts this into perspective; $1,000,000 ... Continue reading this article…

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Podcast 7: Quicken Online New Features and 10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget

by Luke Landes

This episode of the Consumerism Commentary Podcast features interviews with Barron Ernst and Linsey Knerl. Barron Ernst is the product manager for Intuit’s Quicken Online and in the podcast, Barron and Tom Dziubek discuss the financial product’s features. Linsey Knerl is one of several authors of 10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget. ... Continue reading this article…

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