Saturday, September 24, 2016

Oshin Sitaula Has Been Exploring The Best Places To Eat In Kathmandu & We’re Drooooooling!

Movers&Shakers, now M&S VMAG, started out as the special Friday supplement for the national daily, The Kathmandu Post. Its first print edition went on stands on October 25, 2013 and the first video magazine that started with its 13th issue was released online on January 16, 2014. The video episode was hosted by a new girl that we had never heard of and by the end of the 19-minute episode, we were like, “Whoa! She’s good, like really good!” and that’s when we played it again to find out her name that we had not noticed earlier; and the name was – Oshin Sitaula.

Yep, that’s her from the very first episode. Click on the picture to watch the full episode.


And well, the rest is now history. It won’t be wrong to say that many people don’t exactly know Oshin as a girl from M&S but they know M&S because of her. It’s no secret that she has played a huge role in success and popularity of this media house; and we are so glad to see her finally being rewarded for her good work. Look at this.


Before we move ahead, here’s a quick relationship tip: Find someone who looks at you the way Oshin looks at her food.

Ok now, moving ahead, where were we? Oh, about being rewarded. Yes, what can be a better way of being rewarded for a foodie than getting to have lots and lots of your favorite delicious foods? Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, Oshin now has a new show that is all about food and it’s called Hunger Hunt.


Oshin along with her team have been exploring some of the best places to eat in and around Kathmandu Valley. The best thing about the show is that they don’t just go to some of the most renowned restaurants that we all already know about but have been introducing us to quite some new and interesting places.

So without further ado, here are the episodes. But before you watch them, we shall warn you that these videos contain extremely delicious stuff that will make you so hungry that you might feel like you haven’t eaten anything in ages . So, watch these at your own risk.

Below is the playlist of all the episodes.

Alternatively, you can watch the episodes on YouTube.

Everything looks so mitho, right? We can’t wait to try these places. Yum!!

If you’re feeling hungry, here’s a GIF of Oshin enjoying her choco lava cake to tease you even more. #SorryButNotSorry


The post Oshin Sitaula Has Been Exploring The Best Places To Eat In Kathmandu & We’re Drooooooling! appeared first on NeoStuffs.

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What Should I Do With My Life? The Fundamental Question of Personal Finance – and a Surprising Answer

For most of my life, I’ve just drifted. I would work passionately at one thing for a while, then I’d burn out on that thing and move on to something else. I felt like I had a good grip on what I needed to do today, but in terms of thinking about the big picture of my life, I just didn’t have any idea.

I would often hear people ask questions like “What do you want to do with your life?” and I would come away with the conclusion that there was some sort of scam involved. I never really had any sense of what I wanted to do with my life.

That overall lack of direction went a long way toward fueling my overspending back in the day. My general lack of any kind of life direction sort of bothered me, so I often covered it up with short-term pleasures. I spent money and did things at least in part so that I wouldn’t have to consider my lack of life direction.

I think that feeling is common for a lot of people. If you don’t have any sense of what you want to do with your life to guide you, it becomes really easy to just drift through life, living paycheck to paycheck and simply trying to get the most momentary enjoyment that you can from what life hands you.

Even when I started my financial turnaround, my idea of saving for the future was entirely based around the idea that, although I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life right now, I’d probably figure it out in the future and I wanted to give my “future self” plenty of resources for that moment when it all became clear.

My friends have had very similar experiences in life, actually. Most of them blanch at the question of what they want to do with their life. And, based upon the emails I’ve read from many, many readers of this site, it’s a common feeling.

I think that, in the end, the question of “what do I do with my life” and the fact that for so many it remains unanswered lies at the root of a lot of financial problems. People don’t have a sense of what they want to do with their lives, so they stumble in random directions. They spend money on short-term fixes and pleasures and try to not think about it too much.

So, how do you answer that question?

Rather than talking about what my own answer is, I’m going to instead talk about what I went through to figure this out in my own life, so that maybe you can use the same steps to figure things out for yourself.

It Starts With You

Here’s the truth of it: you are the only person who lives within your skin. At the end of your life, you really only have one person to answer to: yourself (and your god, depending on your theological beliefs, but that doesn’t really qualify as a person).

Thus, the number one question that really matters above everything else is what do you want? What do you want out of life?

This isn’t about what your wife wants or your husband wants or your kids want or your parents want or your friends want. This is about what you want. What do you want out of life?

Finding the Flow

That seems like a tough question on the surface, so I’m going to break it down into some pieces.

One, at what points in your recent adult life have you felt genuinely fulfilled and happy? There is no right or wrong answer here. For some people, it may happen when they’re working. For others, it may happen when they’re spending time with people. For still others, it may come when they’re engaged with a hobby.

I find that the greatest moments of fulfillment in life tend to line up really well with the moments in which I’ve lost all track of time and space, and I’ve found that, through conversations with other people, a lot of people feel that way, too. When I’m doing something that I’m so involved with that I’ll happen to look up at a clock and be completely confused by what the clock is telling me. Where did the hours go?

That, in my eyes, is the peak state of living – when you’re so engaged physically and/or mentally with something that the constraints of your life – the clock being a big one – just kind of disappear. You’re lost in the experience of the moment. To me, that’s incredibly joyful; to me, that’s why people were put here on this earth.

For me, it happens sometimes when I’m writing. It happens sometimes when I’m hiking. It happens sometimes when I’m doing things with my children or with my wife. It happens sometimes when I’m reading. It happens sometimes when I’m playing a game that makes me think in some fashion. It happens sometimes in the midst of a great conversation with a thoughtful friend or two. It happens sometimes when I pray or meditate. It occasionally happens when I’m cooking or when I’m gardening when I’m exercising or when I’m fixing or repairing something.

Those moments truly are the best moments of my life. I’m so lost in something that the stresses of my life tend to disappear for a while and I feel “whole” in a way that I never really feel outside of those moments. I feel incredibly fulfilled and happy when that happens. I call those periods my “flow state,” because time and other aspects of life just flow around me – I don’t even really notice them.

So, the next question I ask myself is this: what do I need to do in my life to maximize the amount of time I spend in that kind of “flow state”? What do I need to do to create a life that has as many “flow state” moments as possible?

Remember, as you keep reading, that I’m just using “flow state” to describe something that happens at the best moments for all of us: when we’re so engaged mentally and physically and emotionally with something in our life that we lose all track of time and space for a while. That’s all “flow state” is, and I’m pretty sure we all experience it sometimes.

To me, that’s really the answer of what I want to do with my life. I want to create a life where I have as many of those “flow state” moments as possible, where my mind, heart, and soul are so engaged with something that I lose track of time and distractions and physical pain and emotional pain and I just get lost in doing whatever it is that’s in front of me due to my deep love for it.

Here’s the thing: the elements of your life that bring you into that “flow state” are going to be different than what clicks for me. I have a close friend that gets there when he’s fishing; he even jokingly calls it his “fishing trance.” I have another friend who can get there in the midst of doing lab work, as he’s an incredibly passionate researcher. My wife says that she gets there sometimes during the middle of teaching a lesson to her students, where she feels so engaged with them that she’s completely startled by the bell signifying the end of the period.

So, what brings out that “flow state” in your life? Keep that in mind for the rest of this article.

Preserving, Maximizing, and Enhancing

We’ve established the basic premise that doing whatever puts you into a “flow state” is what you should be doing in life and that the best life is one that puts you into that “flow state” as much as possible.

Let’s look at some of the elements you need to put together to make this a reality in your life.

First, you need some significant blocks of time. It’s hard to get into a flow state without having some blocks of time set aside for those things. Obviously, this means that time management needs to play a role.

Second, you need enough financial security so that you’re not “living on the edge.” If you’re in a situation where you’re stressed out constantly about money, you’re going to find it hard to focus on other things for any significant period (and even when you manage to do it, you find yourself in a rough spot when you “snap back”). You’re also in a position where you can’t take a stand for yourself at work because there would be major problems if you lost your job.

Finally, you need enough financial security to afford whatever tools you need to achieve that flow state. This is achieved with budgeting, of course.

How do you get these things? Here are several strategies for achieving that.

Strategy #1 – Be frugal with everything else, as they’re relatively unimportant anyway

Everything in your life that isn’t connected to that sense of “flow” should be enormously secondary to you. You should strive in every possible way to minimize the time and money you commit to those things.

The first and most obvious way to do that is to simply find ways to minimize your spending in all of those areas. If food doesn’t bring you to a “flow state,” look for ways to minimize the cost necessary to adequately meet your nutritional needs and don’t spend beyond that. If laundry doesn’t bring you to a “flow state,” look for ways to minimize the cost necessary to dress yourself cleanly and presentably and don’t spend beyond that. The same thought goes for every single thing in your life that you spend time or money on – if they don’t lead to a great experience for you, minimize the money and time you spend on them.

There are countless frugal strategies you can adopt along the way. You can cut back on everything from housing (live in a smaller cheaper place – remember, does it help bring you to a joyful state?) to transportation to utilities to household supplies to entertainment (why spend money on stuff that doesn’t bring genuine lasting joy into your life, especially when there is so much free stuff to do?). Just start cutting back on everything that doesn’t bring you to that joyful “flow state” – if it doesn’t do that, why are you spending money on it?

Strategy #2 – Have “compressed” days and “uncompressed” days

This is a strategy I’ve found incredibly helpful in terms of finding blocks of time in which to get lost in the flow of things that I really care about. Without it, I don’t know how I’d ever find, say, an afternoon to get lost in a great book or an evening to go to the community board game night or a day to go hiking with my family.

To put it simply, I have “compressed” days in which I fill basically every waking second with what I call “life management” – the tasks that aren’t really very fun but are necessary for professional employment and day-to-day life. Laundry. Dishes. Work. Paying bills. Cleaning. Errands. All of those kinds of endless things.

Rather than spending some time each day “unwinding” – which is time basically spent not really doing anything – I try to pack some days so full of little tasks that I basically don’t “stop” for the entire day. I go to bed feeling utterly worn out, and that’s a good thing because it means that I’ll have a day (or part of a day) in the very near future where I can devote real blocks of time to the meaningful things in my life.

Those “uncompressed” days serve as an incredible motivator to get me through my “compressed” days. I might be tempted to just kick back for a while and not do much of anything in the evening on a “compressed” day, but if I do that, I’m directly sacrificing time that I’d set aside for the big hike this weekend or for a Sunday afternoon curled up and getting lost in a book.

Strategy #3 – Slowly decommit from less-important things in your life

Most of us have life commitments and relationships and other things in our lives that we’ve committed to over the years, only to realize later on that they’re really not something that brings lasting value into our lives. They just take up time and energy, but we still keep chugging along with them.

The truth is that, in most cases, if you’ve reached a point where you’re just “chugging along” and you don’t feel any real commitment to something, you’re probably turning in a pretty poor performance at that thing and that someone else will probably bring much more to the table than you do.

For those commitments, commit instead to winding down your commitment. Do everything you can to prepare that commitment for transition to someone else and then find someone to hand that commitment to.

Naturally, this doesn’t apply to every single responsibility and commitment in your life, just the ones you can sensibly hand off to others. What about the ones you have to follow through on?

Strategy #4 – Treat your responsibilities not as “downers,” but as the essential things you need to do for more “flow time”

Many people look at their life responsibilities in a negative light, as things that have to be joylessly done. The truth, however, is that the vast, vast majority of your life’s responsibilities only are responsibilities because they directly support the things in life that you want.

For example, I really don’t enjoy doing laundry. It’s a task that is just… drudgery for me if I look at it in isolation. Sorting clothes, putting them in the washer, moving them to the dryer or putting them on racks, then folding them and putting them away… it’s just not something I relish. At all.

However, when I put it in a different context, it’s not bad. It’s that laundry task that makes it possible for me to have clean clothes to wear. It’s doing the dishes that makes it possible for me (and my family) to have clean dishes to eat and drink from.

In other words, I focus on the outcome of the drudgery and how it helps me to do the things I most want to do in life. I don’t think about how un-fun the actual task is; instead, I look entirely at the result. The end result of laundry is clean clothes in my drawer, which means I can just grab a shirt during an “uncompressed” day and jump right into doing something meaningful, thus doing laundry really supports that task.

What about things like parenting? Many people have children but don’t find deep meaning in being parents. What if you have a real responsibility in life that doesn’t lead to something deeply meaningful?

The thing to remember in those situations is that you owe it to yourself and to the other people involved to take care of your responsibility to the best of your ability. Doing so means the best possible outcome over the long term for you and for the other people involved. For example (and this is just one aspect of a much bigger picture), it’s pretty difficult to ever have a healthy family relationship with your adult child or a relationship with any grandchildren if you don’t do your best to be a good parent. That’s not just a benefit for you in the long term, but a benefit for your child as well.

Strategy #5 – Treat your physical and mental health as a major responsibility

Almost everything you want out of life relies on a firm foundation of physical and mental health. Without those, it’s often much more difficult – even impossible – to reach that joyful flow state.

I find that four things go a long way toward preserving and enhancing my physical and mental health foundation.

First, I get adequate sleep – not too much, not too little. I prefer to wake up on my own each morning, but I try to get out of bed as soon as I awaken. To do that, I try to have a consistent bedtime and minimize the light in my bedroom so that I go to sleep as quickly as possible. The time at which I have to wake up is at the very far end of how long I normally sleep, so I usually naturally awaken well before I need to be awake in the morning.

Second, I (try to) eat a well-balanced diet with tons of fruits and vegetables. That’s pretty straightforward. I try to have more vegetables on my plate than anything else at meal times and I usually make fruits into my snacks. I don’t go to extreme ends, but I think that those principles make for a pretty good dietary foundation. (My only weaknesses are portion size, craft beer, and cheeses, and I consciously try to minimize those.)

Third, I (try to) get some exercise every day, even if it’s just a walk. I usually try to exercise for at least half an hour each day. Many days, this just takes the form of a two to three mile walk. I use that time to relax my mind and to brainstorm ideas. I find that exercise is good for both my mental and physical health.

Finally, I meditate. I try to practice mindful meditation each day, and I find that this is pure gold for my state of mind. I use guided mindful meditation routines like those found at calm.com; sometimes, I do them while I’m walking.

Strategy #6 – Chart out what your ideal week looks like and make that your goal

Imagine for a moment that you were in good enough financial shape to basically do whatever you want with a given week, and that your goal was to find yourself in a “flow state” as often as possible. How would you arrange that week? How would you open the door to as many deep and joyful activities as possible?

I’d fill my hours with big blocks of time for the things that bring me into a flow state. I’d go on a big half-day or full-day trail walk / hike twice a week or so. I’d spend at least a couple hours a day reading. I’d spend three or four hours early in the morning writing. I’d spend enormous chunks of time one-on-one with my children after school and on weekends. I’d make a lot of homemade meals from scratch. I’d make a much more formal exercise routine. I’d spend some time each week working for a local volunteer group that does gardening and gives away the proceeds. I’d be involved in several different community board game nights. We’d host a ton of dinner parties to boot.

That life sounds incredible to me. It’s a life that would be deeply fulfilling to me, day in and day out. I want that life.

So, how do I get there? The key, to me, is to mix in some strong samples of that life – in my “uncompressed” days – with a concerted effort to live a frugal life and to do my best to earn a strong income during my “compressed” days. It’s as simple as that – spend less than you earn and make that gap as big as possible. That way, I can reach that dream as soon as I can, giving me many many years to enjoy that life.

Final Thoughts

Some people might find it strange that I associate the “flow state” with the best life, but if you give it some thought, it makes sense. The most joyful moments in life are the ones where we lose track of time because we’re so thoroughly engaged with what we’re doing. There’s no clearer sign that we’re dissatisfied and unhappy with the moment than if we’re looking at our watch or the wall clock or fidgeting with our smart phone or browsing some website. All of those things are signs that we’re not mentally engaged with what we’re supposedly doing in that moment, which I find is at the root of a lot of dissatisfaction in life. Satisfaction and joy comes from the opposite – complete engagement with whatever you’re doing at the moment.

If you make it your goal in life to seek out those moments of “flow” – of complete engagement in the moment – you’re going to find a much better life. The challenge, of course, is that the realities of life sometimes stand in the way of doing that. Financial independence is one big tool for overcoming that challenge.

For me personally, this is as close as I’ve come to the meaning of life – to be so fully engaged in something that the rest of the world flows around you. It means that you’re using at least some of the things you have at your disposal to their fullest potential, and not only does that feel great, it usually has tremendous results as well.

All of the things I most want to achieve in life boil down to achieving that state in some form or another. Personal finance, time management, and many other things all work to make my life as open to those moments as possible.

I hope that you can find that central meaning in your life, too. I encourage you to seek out those moments of natural flow and see how meaningful they are for you. You might be surprised as to how powerful they really are and how they tie together big parts of your life, and if you can find that central principle, too, it can provide a really powerful foundation upon which to base your plans for financial independence.

Good luck.

The post What Should I Do With My Life? The Fundamental Question of Personal Finance – and a Surprising Answer appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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How to Get the Lowest Mortgage Rates Possible

When it comes to financing your home, a basic understanding of certain financial principles will help you get the lowest mortgage rates. For example, you should know that your credit score might determine what kind of mortgage rate you qualify for. Also, it’s crucial to understand the different types of mortgages available, what their drawbacks and benefits are, and which ones come with the lowest rates.

Seven Ways to Get the Lowest Mortgage Rates

There are several ways to get a lower rate on your mortgage, each of which has its own pros and cons. If you’re angling for the lowest mortgage interest rates possible, here are a few steps to consider:

1. Consider more than one type of mortgage.

While most people look to fixed-rate mortgages when they shop around, other mortgage types can offer lower rates – especially at first. It’s certainly true that fixed-rate mortgages offer a steady, reliable interest rate that won’t creep up on you years later, but that doesn’t mean they’re the right option for every consumer.

With a variable- or adjustable-rate mortgage, for example, consumers start with a fixed rate that lasts anywhere from one to 10 years, then float into a variable rate based on whatever the current interest rates. Because adjustable-rate mortgages, or ARMs, usually offer lower rates to start, they can be attractive options for people who plan to refinance or move after the first few years.

2. Improve your credit score.

The lowest mortgage rates go to those with the best credit scores, it’s as simple as that. Generally, a credit score of 720 or higher is considered “excellent,” and you’ll need it to qualify for the best mortgage rates you see advertised.

If you want the lowest mortgage rates, but your credit is nonly fair or poor, it can pay to look for ways to boost your credit score before you apply. That could mean paying off consumer debts to lower your credit utilization, getting a credit card and using it responsibly to add some reporting history and meat to your credit report, or clearing up old accounts in default.

3. Buy points.

In the mortgage world, a “point” is an upfront fee you can pay to lower the interest rate on your mortgage. Generally speaking, each point is equal to 1% of the total mortgage amount. On a $200,000 mortgage, for example, each point would cost $2,000 upfront.

While buying points may be a losing proposition if you only plan to keep your mortgage for a few years, purchasing points can be a huge money-saver if you’re keeping your mortgage for the long haul. Paying $2,000 now for a quarter-point reduction on your interest rate (dropping it from 4.0% to 3.75%, for example) could save you $10,000 in interest over a full 30-year mortgage — but only if you stay in that house for 30 years.

That’s why it’s important to consider how long you’ll keep your mortgage before you choose this route; if you plan on selling your home quickly, buying points may not pay off.

4. See if you qualify for special programs.

Over the years, many programs have been introduced to help boost homeownership and make it more affordable. These programs include FHA loans, VA loans, USDA loans, HUD programs, and special loans for first-time home buyers.

Depending on your situation, the amount you need to borrow, and whether or not you’ve owned a home in the past few years, you could qualify for a lower down payment, special financing, and more.

5. Save up a larger down payment.

If you’re worried about getting the best interest rate, saving up a larger down payment for your home can help. Banks and lenders like a big down payment – it means you’re not as big of a risk to them if you default on the loan – so they’ll typically reward a full down payment with better interest rates.

Not only can a heftier down payment help you qualify for the lowest rates and best mortgage terms available, but it can help you avoid paying PMI, or private mortgage insurance. By saving up at least 20% of the home price for your down payment and avoiding PMI, you can save around 1% of the total amount of your mortgage.

6. Shop around.

While you may be partial to your existing bank or credit union, you should always shop around to find the best mortgage. Your mortgage rate can vary drastically depending on the mortgage lender or bank you choose.

Start the process by checking with your local mortgage banker, then your personal bank and credit union. You can also compare mortgage quotes online. Make sure to compare not only your interest rate but mortgage fees as well.

7. Choose a mortgage with a shorter term.

While the fixed-rate, 30-year mortgage is popular among those who want a lower monthly payment, you can consider a fixed-rate loan with a shorter term, such as 15 years. Not only will a shorter mortgage term help you own your home faster, but it can help you qualify for a far lower mortgage rate, too, saving you thousands and thousands of dollars in interest over the life of the loan.

When you choose a shorter mortgage term, you’ll have to endure a larger monthly payment, however. Make sure to compare options, monthly payments, and interest rates to find a comprehensive mortgage package you can afford.

Final Thoughts

A lot of factors come into play when it comes to qualifying for, and securing, the best mortgage rates out there. The most important steps you can take are getting your credit in good shape, shopping around among different lenders and banks, and reading all the fine print. And when in doubt, contact a qualified mortgage expert for help.

Related Articles:

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Can You Pay Off One Credit Card with Another?

If you’re unable to make the minimum payment on your credit card, using another credit card to pay your bill might sound ideal. By paying off one credit card with another one, you can avoid paying anything out of pocket for an entire month. Does it get any better than that?

Before you move forward, however, you should know how this works, how much it costs, and the consequences that arise when you shuffle debt around instead of paying it off. While you can technically pay off one credit card with another, it’s usually a bad idea. Plus, there are better alternatives to consider if you need a lower payment and some wiggle room in your budget.

Can you pay off one credit card with another? Yes. Should you? Now, that’s an entirely different question. Keep reading to learn more.

How Can You Pay a Credit Card with Another Credit Card?

First things first; let’s talk about logistics. Whether it’s a good idea or not, the fact remains that, yes, you can pay off one credit card with another credit card.

The easiest way to do this is to take out a cash advance with one of your credit cards. Once you take out a cash advance online or at an ATM, you can use that cash to pay off your other credit card bill. If you don’t want to take out a cash advance, you can also use those handy convenience checks your card issuer sends in the mail. By writing a check to yourself and cashing it, you’ll gain access to the money you need to pay your other bills.

While both of these options are easy, the costs involved should give you pause. For starters, you’ll generally pay at least 3% to  5% of your cash advance amount as an upfront fee. If your cash advance is for $500, for example, you’ll pay up to $25 the moment you get access to your cash. Second, unlike when you use your card at a store, there’s typically no grace period on a cash advance, so their (usually high) interest charges start adding up immediately. Growing the balance on your original card by taking out a cash advance will lead to higher interest charges over time. So if your interest rate is relatively high, $500 in new debt could cost you hundreds more over the years.

Also remember, you’re not really helping yourself when you shuffle debt around without really paying it off. You’re buying yourself time — literally, you’re paying quite a premium. By and large, paying off one credit card with a cash advance from another is nothing more than a shell game. Your balance might drop on one card, but it will surge on another. Over time, this could easily spiral out of hand and lead you deeper and deeper into debt.

Should You Consider a Balance Transfer Instead?

If you’re tired of settling one debt with another, a balance transfer credit card is one option to consider. By transferring all of your credit card balances to a balance transfer credit card, you can score 0% interest for anywhere from 12 to 21 months.

You’ll still need to make monthly payments on your new balance, but with a 0% APR, they should be markedly lower, and you won’t accrue new interest charges during the introductory period, allowing you to make faster progress in paying down the balance. If you’re serious about dropping your debt, you could use this time to get out of debt faster.

A few considerations should come to mind as you consider any balance transfer offer. First, some balance transfer cards charge a balance transfer fee equal to 3% to 5% in order to secure your new line of credit with an introductory 0% APR. Second, the best balance transfer cards are only available to individuals with good credit or better.

Lastly, a balance transfer credit card can’t help you get out of debt unless you stop digging. If you transfer your balances, than continue spending on your other cards, you won’t be better off in the end. To get the most out of a balance transfer credit card, you need to stop spending, get serious about your debts, and stay the course.

Final Thoughts

If you’re serious about paying one credit card off with another, it’s probably time to take a step back. Before you make a rash decision, you should ask yourself what you hope to accomplish by shuffling debt around, and if there might be a better way.

If you’re simply short on funds and can’t make your minimum payment, paying off one balance with a cash advance or convenience check can buy you time — literally – as a short-term, stop-gap measure. But really, that’s about all you’ll get.

Since you can’t pay off one credit card with another forever, you’ll need a better long-term solution. Remember, you will have to pay your balances off in their entirety eventually. The best thing you can do is avoid new debts and get serious about paying off the debts you have.

Related Articles:

Have you ever paid off one credit card with another? Have you ever done a balance transfer? Please share your story below. 

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Friday, September 23, 2016

Why Don’t More Retailers Accept American Express? Merchant Fees.

If you carry an American Express credit card, you probably already know the drill. Once you’re done shopping and ready to make a purchase, you approach the checkout counter at some random store. But instead of swiping your favorite AmEx card, you catch a peek of the one sign you didn’t want to see – “American Express not accepted.”

This is an unfortunate scenario, but it’s one that plays out time and time again. Due to high American Express merchant fees, many retailers cannot – or will not – accept American Express as payment. Keep reading to learn more about the way American Express operates, and how you can avoid a letdown at the register.

What’s the Deal with American Express Merchant Fees?

First things first. Before we talk about alternative payment options, let’s talk about why many retailers don’t take AmEx in the first place. As with anything else, all you have to do is follow the money to understand this phenomenon.

Where most other card issuers charge retailers a 2% to 3% transaction fee on each bill in exchange for accepting credit card as payment, American Express merchant fees are more like 3.5%. While that might not sound like a huge difference, it adds up. A store who survives on razor-thin markups can’t afford to lose an extra percent of profit margin, while a large retailer who does hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales every day or every week stands to lose a tremendous amount of money if they’re routinely paying AmEx merchant fees.

With that in mind, many retailers have chosen not to accept American Express altogether. They assume that most consumers have another form of payment they can use anyway — and, most of the time, they’re right.

At this point, you’re probably wondering how and why American Express charges a higher transaction fee. It all boils down to their business model, how they earn profits, and the type of customer they serve.

Where some credit card issuers earn most of their profits when consumers pay interest on their balances, American Express pegs its earnings on the annual fees their clients pay, along with swipe fees paid by retailers. In addition, American Express offers a wide range of charge cards that don’t even allow consumers to carry a balance from month to month. With charge cards, swipe fees and annual fees are the only feasible way for card issuers to turn a profit.

Should You Get an American Express Credit Card?

While not all retailers and merchants accept American Express, there’s a reason they remain so popular among consumers. While you might have to use an alternative form of payment every once in a while, you can still benefit heavily from having the right American Express card in your wallet.

With the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, for example, you can earn 6% back on your first $6,000 in grocery store purchases every year. This card does charge an annual fee, but you can make up for that in a hurry with such a high rate of return on your grocery spending. Plus, this card comes with a signup bonus to boot.

And if you don’t want to pay an annual fee, you can always sign up for the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express instead. You’ll escape the annual fee with this one, but you’ll still get 3% back on your first $6,000 in grocery spending every year, along with 2% back at gas stations and 1% back on everything else.

In addition to these cards, American Express offers an array of top-notch travel credit cards and rewards cards for business and personal use. If you’re interested in learning which cards offer the best benefits, check out our new guide on the best American Express cards currently on the market.

Final Thoughts

If you’re thinking of getting an American Express card, don’t let a few retailers that don’t accept the card stand in your way of their lucrative rewards. While a handful of merchants don’t want to pay the extra fees, the majority of businesses are more than happy to accept American Express if it means gaining your business.

To protect yourself from an awkward situation at the checkout, however, you should carry at least one other form of payment with you at all times. It can be another credit card from a different issuer, a debit card from your bank, or even cold, hard cash. As long as you have at least one way to pay that doesn’t involve an American Express card, just in case, you’ll be fine.

Related Articles:

Have you ever had trouble using American Express before? Do you carry an American Express card? Please share your story below. 

The post Why Don’t More Retailers Accept American Express? Merchant Fees. appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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From ‘Closer’ To ‘Nira’, Our Readers Can’t Get Enough Of These Ten Songs Lately!

We recently asked our readers about their current favorites songs. Well, here we have the count-down of top 10 songs that they just can’t get enough of.

#10. Astha – Ride ft. Manny Rite

On the tenth spot of the count-down is Astha Tamang Maskey’s latest hit ‘Ride’ featuring rapper Manny Rite. This is such a beautiful number with equally beautiful music video. Watch.

#9. Almoda Rana Uprety – Funtastic

Almoda Rana Uprety’s viral and quite controversial dance number ‘Funtastic’ is on the ninth spot. Here it is.

#8. Sajjan Raj Vaidya – Hawaijahaj

Sajjan Raj Vaidya is on the eighth spot with ‘Hawaijahaj’, an amazing song with an outstanding music video.

#7. Atif Aslam – Tere Sang Yaara

‘Tere Sang Yaara’, a soundtrack from Bollywood flick ‘Rustom’, makes it to the list on seventh spot. The music for the song performed by Atif Aslam is composed by Arko.

#6. Deeksha J Thapa & Chintu – Daali Daali

The only cover song to be on the list is ‘Daali Daali’. The original song by Sadhana Sargam has been beautifully covered by Deeksha J Thapa and Chintu on Channel Arbitrary’s show ‘Me & My Guitar’. Give it a listen here.

#5. Coldplay – Up&Up

Undoubtedly the best surreal music video of the year, Coldplay’s ‘Up&Up’ is on the fifth spot. The third single from band’s seventh studio album ‘A Head Full Of Dreams’ has background vocals by Beyonce, Annabelle Wallis and Merry Clayton.

#4. Bipul Chettri – Junkeri

Bipul Chettri recently released his second studio album ‘Maya’ and it has been receiving a wonderful amount of love from his fans. ‘Junkeri’, a song from the album is on the fourth spot on this list. Listen.

#3. Sia – Cheap Thrills Feat. Sean Paul

The Australian singing sensation Sia’s ‘Cheap Thrills’ is on the third spot. The song from her seventh studio album ‘This Is Acting’ had become her first No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States.

#2. Kali Prasad Baskota – Nira

With over 3.4 million views on YouTube in less than two months, ‘Nira’ is currently the most loved Nepali song. The soundtrack from Dayahang Rai and Priyanka Karki starrer ‘Purano Dunga’ is performed by Kali Prasad Baskota.

#1. The Chainsmokers – Closer Feat. Halsey

Aaaaaaand, making it to the top of this list is the one and only….. ‘Closer’ by The Chainsmokers that also features Halsey on vocals. The single topped the charts in the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Ireland — making it The Chainsmokers’ and Halsey’s first number-one in all of these six countries. The lyric video of the song has so far amassed over 280 million views on YouTube in less than two months. Dang!

That’s the count-down for now. Comment below if your current favorite song made it to the list or not. If it didn’t, no problem at all, ‘cos we’ll be back with a new list soon. Be happy and keep listening to some beautiful music!!

The post From ‘Closer’ To ‘Nira’, Our Readers Can’t Get Enough Of These Ten Songs Lately! appeared first on NeoStuffs.

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Five Strategies for Finding Other Frugal and Financial Independence Minded People

One of the biggest concerns that people have when they’re financially rebooting their life is how they’re going to find people to fill their social circle. Many, many people have social circles that engage in activities that are expensive – a constant cycle of going out for dinners, drinking at bars, going clothes shopping together, and so on – and while you might be fine with stepping back from those activities, it’s often much more challenging to step back from the connections with people.

If all of your friends are spenders, what do you do when you choose to step back from all of that spending?

It’s a question I faced myself during the early stages of our financial turnaround. My main social circle prior to that consisted of a group of young professionals in my field at the time. They went out for drinks most nights after work. They often went out for meals together. They went golfing on the weekends. Sometimes, they’d shop together. They’d constantly try to one-up each other with purchases, particularly regarding clothing, electronics, cars, and luxury experiences like eating at a new restaurant.

Frankly, it was incredibly expensive to hang out with those people. Virtually every activity I did with them involved shelling out money left and right.

It was readily apparent that if I wanted a financially stable life where I could build toward my big dream of financial independence, I had to make some big changes to how I spent my time after work and on the weekends. However, doing so meant that I would have to walk away from this social circle I had built.

I did it anyway.

Today, I easily have a larger social circle than I had then, but there was a rough period of transition where I had to figure out how frugal and financially responsible people found friends. Here are the strategies that really worked for us.

Invite people in your social group to do more financially responsible things. As we started to withdraw from the more expensive social lifestyle, we didn’t just cut ourselves off from our friends. Instead, we made a concerted effort to invite those friends to do other things that weren’t perhaps as financially strenuous.

We hosted dinner parties (more on this in a bit). We invited people to go to free community concerts with us. We invited people to play disc golf with us. We invited people to picnic and hike with us.

What happened is that some people just weren’t interested at all and they somewhat faded out of our life (this was the largest group, but not overwhelmingly so). Another set of people went along with it simply because they liked our friendship. A third group loved it and were glad to have an excuse to get off of the spending train and still have people to hang out with.

To this day, I still have good friends who were part of that initial group of overspenders that I hung out with back then. They weren’t driven away by our lifestyle changes; instead, they were fine with the change or, in some cases, very glad to see it.

You might find that changing your activities doesn’t mean losing your friends after all.

Look at Meetup.com (and the community calendar) for things that might interest you. While it’s easy to come up with a handful of cheap ideas off the top of your head, almost everyone eventually starts to run short on ideas of fun things to do on the cheap. That’s where Meetup.com and other “community calendar” services really come in handy.

Just look on Meetup and see what kinds of events are in your area. Combine that with a search through the community calendars of your town/city and all adjacent towns/cities to see what’s going on there. Add on top of that the calendars from the libraries and parks and rec departments in your town/city and nearby towns/cities as well as the calendars from nearby universities.

When you go through that huge pile of events, you’re probably going to find a bunch that you’re not interested in. Even if you discard 95% of the events as not interesting to you, you’re still going to have a pile of options to explore almost every night of the week.

Dig through them. Explore each of them. See if they’re for you. There’s a good chance that somewhere in that flood of options is something that will really click with you, full of people who are likely to become your future friends.

Be outgoing when you attend public events. This is hard for some people. I know – I’m introverted myself and I can bottle up tight when I’m in a group of people I don’t know very well.

Over the years, though, I’ve learned two things about situations like this. One, many of the people in the room feel the same way as you. They’re introverts. They don’t feel comfortable talking either. If a room full of introverts gets together, no one talks and you get the impression that everyone’s unfriendly when that’s not actually the case.

Two, if you keep to yourself, the only way you’ll ever talk to people is if an extroverted person happens to notice you and chooses to focus on you for a while or a courageous introvert does the same. If neither of those happens, you’re going to sit in the corner and probably not have any fun.

So talk to someone. Don’t worry about making a fool of yourself – if it turns out that you do and you don’t click with anyone, you don’t ever have to come back. Start some conversations.

I find that the easiest way to start a conversation is to ask that person about themselves or about their perspective on what’s happening with that group. There are few better ways to get a conversation started than to just ask someone else to talk about themselves or their own thoughts. Listen. Ask questions. Don’t just jump in with your own thoughts, at least not right away. You’ll find that things go quite well if you do things that way.

If you find this really hard, I strongly recommend reading How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It’s a very effective book if you treat it as a “how-to” for social occasions for introverted people. Yes, some of the examples are a little dated – this book was written decades ago – but the principles still work like an absolute charm.

Look for people in your life that you might have otherwise overlooked. Whenever we enter into a new environment, we often build relationships with certain people and overlook others due to pure happenstance. Someone happens to talk to us and a conversation begins while you just happened to miss someone else in the breakroom.

Are there any people in your workplace that you perhaps don’t know well but seem to have always gotten along with? What about any people in other civic or religious organizations you might participate in?

Quite often, there’s a treasure trove of interesting people and potential friendships on the periphery of your life that you just never took the time to build anything with. Take a second look at those people. Invite them to do something with you. See if anything clicks once you’re giving them some focus.

Master the low-cost dinner party. One of the most successful things that I’ve ever done is figure out how to host a good low-cost dinner party for several friends, and it’s something that Sarah and I do many times a year.

Our strategy is to keep it really simple. We make something very straightforward that’s going to be widely liked – such as homemade pizza – and if we want to impress, we impress by making something from scratch – like a completely-from-scratch pizza crust. We’ll often make soups that include lots of vegetables from our garden and homemade rolls, as another example. Once, we had a simple pasta meal where I made the pasta from scratch. Very straightforward stuff, very inexpensive stuff, and food everyone’s going to like.

We also ask that our guests bring something to share, like a bottle of wine (or two) or a simple “finger food” dessert like cookies.

Since our main meals are pretty inexpensive, even when we make a lot of it, it means that our dinner parties usually end up costing us $20 or less. Even better, friends will often reciprocate and invite you to a dinner party, which means a nearly free meal (we usually bring something along with us when we go to a dinner party).

Final Thoughts

Being financially responsible or frugal doesn’t mean that you have to sit at home all night never interacting with anyone. If you put forth just a little effort – and use a few smart ideas – you can have a thriving social life without constantly shelling out money.

Good luck!

The post Five Strategies for Finding Other Frugal and Financial Independence Minded People appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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You Won’t Even Realize When This 6-Minute-Video From Nepal Will Make You Emotional

We’ve a 6-minute-video from Nepal that is so beautiful, it will make you emotional. Emotional, not because it’s a sad video or anything; in fact, it’s full of gorgeous locations and happy people and it will make you emotional in a good way. You know, emotional in a way that you will feel proud to be a Nepali — proud because yours is a beautiful country and some of the most amazing people live here. The best thing about the video is that it’s just a trailer and the full documentary is yet to come. It’s a trailer for the ‘Letters from Within’ Nepal project that focuses about culture and customs; and life of the people post 2015 earthquake. We just can’t wait to watch the full documentary directed and produced by by Dmitrii Petroy and Anna Soldatova. For the time being, here’s the trailer. Let us know what you think of it.

The post You Won’t Even Realize When This 6-Minute-Video From Nepal Will Make You Emotional appeared first on NeoStuffs.

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

31 Days to Financial Independence (Day 6): The Big Boost

“31 Days to Financial Independence” is an ongoing series that appears every Thursday on The Simple Dollar. You might want to start this series from the beginning!

Last time, we put together a lot of pieces and created a picture of our lives, one that shows how many hours a week we spend just to keep running in place and how few hours per week go toward building any sort of future.

This shouldn’t be an altogether surprising picture. After all, more than three in four Americans are living paycheck to paycheck and 76 million Americans struggle to keep food on the table. This isn’t just low-income folks, either; according to Bloomberg, “[c]lose to half of those who earn from $100,000 to $149,999 a year have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts. Some 18 percent of them have socked away absolutely nothing.”

The truth is that it’s the American norm right now to be running in place financially. The median American is making no progress whatsoever toward their goals in life.

You want to be different. You want to achieve some big life goals. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here.

The answer starts with debt. Believe it or not, 80% of American adults are in some form of debt. Notice how that number lines up almost perfectly with the number of Americans living paycheck to paycheck? That’s not a coincidence.

The truth is that debt is a weight around your neck, dragging you down and making it very difficult to make any real forward progress. Debt payments not only add yet another bill to your monthly bill-paying routine, they also accumulate interest, which means you’re going to be paying back far more than you were given to begin with. Nothing better than swapping $2,000 of your hard-earned money for $1,000, right?

Unsurprisingly, debt is where we’re going to start when it comes to cleaning up your financial situation. It’s a bill that you can make go away quite easily. If you remember the exercise from last time, debt bills gobble up some of those hours that you work every week. If you eliminate debt, you free up those hours – and the proceeds from those hours – to devote to your long term life plans. The route to financial independence is all about devoting as much of your work week as possible to future financial success and as little as possible to merely keeping the wheels of everyday life turning. There’s no better way to make that happen than to eliminate debt.

You might think, “Great! Let’s sit down and figure out how we’re going to pay all of this off!” Not quite so fast, my friend.

The first step in this process is to have a little bit of cash to work with. There are three big reasons for this.

First of all, you’re going to want to have a cash emergency fund. Cash is king. Cash can’t be declined like your credit card can. Cash can’t have its credit limit reduced like your credit card can. Cash can’t hit a credit limit, either. Cash solves problems, and you’re going to want to put a little aside to solve problems. Like it or not, the road to the future is bumpy. It’s going to involve vehicles breaking down. It’s going to involve having to pay a bill you forgot about. It’s going to involve losing a job. Having some cash on hand will help you out.

Second, you’re going to want to make sure all of your bills are at least up to date. If you’re not paying your bills on time, you’re facing late fees, which makes the challenge of paying things off even harder. It is absolutely vital that you get up to date on all of your bills before you start worrying about debt repayment or any sort of larger future of financial independence.

Third, even if you have an emergency fund and are up to date on your bills, a burst of cash can help you wipe out a bill immediately, eliminating that bill and giving you a great head start on this entire plan. If you can follow the plan presented here and use the proceeds to wipe out a bill or two, then you’re suddenly responsible for fewer bills each month. You have more resources to work with in terms of achieving your dreams even if you change absolutely nothing else in your life.

Thus, rather than building a debt repayment plan first (don’t worry, we will get there), your best first move is to jump start your finances with a burst of cash.

But… how on earth are you going to get a burst of cash? Most of us don’t simply have a big bundle of cash sitting around. If we did, then getting ourselves into better financial shape would be a lot easier.

The tool we’re going to use to get that initial burst of cash is a surprisingly simple one: decluttering.

The vast, vast majority of Americans have items in their home that they don’t regularly use. Their closets are full of all kinds of items that have been pressed into tubs and boxes and into storage. Their shelves are full of media items that are rarely examined in any way. Their garages and their rafters have tons of forgotten and nearly-forgotten items that haven’t been touched in eons.

Why is that stuff still there? It’s because we like to buy into the “someday” argument. Someday, I’ll need this. Someday, I’ll have enough time to use this. Someday, I’ll pick up this hobby. The truth is that someday almost never comes – and even if it does, you’re probably better off acquiring replacement items anyway.

Here’s a simple little rule to follow: if something has sat in your home unused for more than a year, you’re probably better off without it. It’s very likely that if you ever do decide you need that item, you can borrow it from somewhere (like the library or a neighbor) or, in the very narrow likelihood that you do actually need it again, you could re-buy it. Otherwise, it’s just taking up space and it could be converted into cash in your pocket.

The game plan is simple, so let’s get started.

Exercise #6 – Decluttering your home for a big financial boost

This is a process that won’t be done overnight. It’ll take several sessions, at least. You might be able to do it over the course of a weekend if you have a smaller home or apartment. Set aside some time for this – it’s important.

First of all, go through your home and make a giant list of all of your storage spaces. By storage spaces, I don’t just mean closets and rafters and crawlspaces; I also mean places where you collect things together, where there’s a large quantity of stuff. Things like bookshelves or cupboards or pantries or media centers absolutely qualify.

You’re going to find as you go through your home that you have a lot more of these storage spaces than you think. I might just be able to count a handful of closets and crawlspaces in our home, but once we start including things like our pantry and various cabinets and various shelving units, the list adds up. Way up.

After that, one at a time, start going through these different storage spaces. Go through every single item in that space. Your goal should be to remove every single item from that storage space at some point during the process – empty it out completely. You can either do that at the start and make judgments as you consider putting things back, or you can do that at the end and make judgments as you remove things.

What kind of judgment are you making? For each item that you pull out, use a simple litmus test to figure out whether or not to keep the item or to sell it.

The simple test? Have you used this item in the last year? If not, are you realistically going to use this item in the next year? If the answer is not a strong affirmative yes, get rid of it.

During this process, you’re often going to have emotional responses to particular items. You’re going to try to convince yourself that you would, in fact, use this item because you’re attached to it somehow.

But would you really use it?

If you have a DVD of a movie that you really love that also happens to be on Netflix, are you going to really watch that DVD any time soon?

If you have a book that you love that’s easily available at your library or is already on your Kindle, are you going to really read that book again any time soon?

If you have supplies from a hobby you used to love, are you really going to pick up that hobby again and devote time to it, even if it’s something you remember fondly?

If you have a tool that you haven’t touched in years and you’re sure your neighbor across the street also has it, are you really going to use that tool again any time soon?

The answer to all of these is “no,” of course. Yet, so often, people convince themselves for emotional reasons that the answer is “yes,” and that’s how junk gets built up over time.

Don’t let your emotional response guide you. Trust that question. Have you used this lately? Are you really going to use it again any time soon? You might have an emotional response here, but are you really going to use that item? If you’re not, it probably makes sense to put it aside.

As you go through this process, you’re going to accumulate a big pile of things that you’re intending to get rid of, and that brings us to the second half of the process: selling.

How on earth are you going to sell off all of this stuff?

First of all, recognize that the more time you put into it, the more money you will make from sales. It’s also worth noting that as you invest more and more time, the return on any additional time is going to go down – as you get closer and closer to the best price for that item, you’re not going to continue to see big jumps in the sale price. Having said that, for many items, the money you make for your extra time quickly goes below minimum wage, so for most items of relatively low value, it’s worthwhile to accept the first reasonable price you’re going to get.

I use a simple four step process when selling things.

First, I use sites like Amazon and eBay to get a sense as to what my used items are selling for. It’s worth remembering that unless they’re in shrinkwrap, they’re not going to be considered new. They’re used, even if they’re in great shape. So, what are they selling for used? I’ll usually make a list of actual selling prices, not the crazy prices that sellers sometimes ask for their stuff. What did this sell for recently? Ebay is usually a good source for this.

Next, I put aside the 10% most valuable individual items for later, then sell the remaining 90% on Craigslist in big bundles. I’ll list all of the items for sale on there and give them prices that are around 50% of what they’re selling for online. I also usually include a “bundle deal” of some kind, where they get a bit of a discount if they buy lots of items at once.

Why so much lower? For starters, you’re not necessarily going to have someone who wants that particular item in your local area. For another, if you do try to seek out full price on an online site, you’re going to have to devote quite a bit of additional time to it (which is why we set aside the most valuable items).

In addition to Craigslist, I also use local community sales pages on Facebook. Our town has one, as do many nearby towns, and I’ll post in all of those places looking for buyers. I usually offer to meet the buyers in neutral places for the sale if the items are small (like books or DVDs or video games).

Any items that don’t sell on Craigslist or a local sales site gets put away for a yard sale. We occasionally have a yard sale, during which we drop our prices very low. I’ll usually start selling items at half of what I listed them on Craigslist for, then keep lowering the prices throughout the weekend to get rid of all of the stuff. To me, a successful yard sale is one in which I have nothing left at the end of the sale, even if it means I just earned pennies on some of the items.

For the individually valuable items, I turn to eBay and Amazon Marketplace. Since those items are of significant value, I’ll take the extra effort with them to sell them individually online. It takes time to do this – you have to deal with the listing, collect payment, figure out how to ship the item, ship it, and watch the feedback, and you have to do all of it efficiently.

Once all of the items are gone from that one storage area, move on to the next one. Keep going down that list of storage areas until every single one of them is cleaned out.

The goal of all of this is to turn a lot of your unused items into extra cash that you can smartly use to get the ball rolling toward a better financial future. So, how do you do that? What exactly do you do with this wad of money that you’ve made from the sale?

The absolute first thing you should do with that cash is make sure that all of your bills are up to date. An endless cycle of late fees can really hamper your finances. If you’re notching late fees on some of your bills each month – let’s say even three of them – and those late fees are $35 a pop, then that’s $105 that just vanishes into the ether. It’s gone. Getting yourself up to date on your bills and in a position where you’re not going to be late any more can make a giant difference in terms of making ends meet and having at least a little bit of breathing room in your financial state.

What do you do if your bills are up to date? The next step to take is to build an emergency fund, which is simply a bundle of cash that you keep in your savings account for personal emergencies.

Many people rely on their credit card for an “emergency fund” of sorts, but the truth is that a credit card isn’t actually all that good of an emergency fund. It fails you completely during a lot of emergencies. It doesn’t help if your identity is stolen. It doesn’t help if you reach your credit limit, or if the bank reduces your credit limit, or if your card is cancelled. It doesn’t help if your card is lost or stolen. In all of those cases, you can just go to your local bank and still make a withdrawal from your cash emergency fund to fix your problems.

Why not put that emergency fund in the stock market and earn a better return on it, then? Money in stocks isn’t nearly as liquid as cash in a savings account, for starters; you’ll have to wait for a while to get that cash out. For another, you run the risk of losing money due to the volatility of the stock market right at the very moment you need it. You buy stocks, they dip 20%, then you have an emergency – that’s not a recipe for success.

Cash is king, and that’s why cash makes the most sense when it comes to an emergency fund. Keep it in a local bank that you can personally visit if necessary in order to make a withdrawal.

The thing is, if you go through all of your extra stuff and make a sincere effort to sell the extra stuff off, you’ll likely still have a fair amount of money left over even after taking care of the basic financial steps above. What do you do then?

Well, the next step is a debt repayment plan… but we’ll get to that next time.

The post 31 Days to Financial Independence (Day 6): The Big Boost appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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Five Ways to Get the Job When You’re Overqualified

There are plenty of reasons you might want a job for which you’re overqualified. Maybe you’re trying to break into a new industry, and you’re willing to take a step back. Or perhaps you tried being the boss, and decided that you have more to offer as an individual contributor.

You might need something a little more low-key while you develop a business idea or deal with some demanding aspects of your personal life. Or, maybe you just need to get out of your current position – your boss is a nightmare, or your company is having financial trouble, or you just can’t stand the thought of going into work on Monday morning. And sometimes, you just need a job – any job.

Regardless of why you’ve decided to throw your hat in the ring for the role, you should go into the job interview process prepared. When you’re overqualified, it’s not a matter of whether the hiring manager will bring it up, but when. Here’s how to manage it:

Trim your resume.

It can feel a little demoralizing to have to de-emphasize your work experience, but if you’re trying to get your foot in the door, and you suspect that you’ll be considered overqualified for the role, your first step will be to make sure your resume doesn’t make you look like you should be your prospective boss’s boss.

To do this, you’ll want to get rid of anything that signifies age, including graduation years, and cut back on any roles that aren’t directly related to the position for which you’re applying. Then consider paring back your experience even further, until it’s closer to the number of years specified. (In other words, if you have 10 years of experience, and they’re looking for someone with two to three, you might get rid of jobs farther back than five years ago, or any gigs that use outdated technology and/or have job titles that are aging like milk.)

Remember that your resume is a highlight reel of your experience, not your autobiography. It’s not dishonest to emphasize the jobs and skills that are most relevant to the position. You might also consider choosing a resume format that focuses on skills instead of previous job titles.

Applying online? Don’t forget resume keywords.

Most jobs these days come through networking, but it’s still worth it to apply online, if you find a role that really speaks to you. To make it through the Applicant Tracking System and get to a real, live person in Human Resources, you’ll have to know how to use resume keywords, however.

Start by looking at the job listing and isolating the words that the employer uses to describe the job; make sure your resume includes them. Then look for the words they’ve left out by comparing the listing against similar listings in your field, and incorporate those keywords as well.

Use your network.

Depending on whom you ask, 60% to 85% of jobs are filled through networking, which only makes sense: If you’re a hiring manager, which candidate would you prefer – the one who applied blind, or the one endorsed by a connection at the company?

Employers love to interview candidates who come through employee recommendations, because they know that employees risk their reputations every time they vouch for someone. If you can find someone at the organization to vouch for you, you’ll stand a better chance of overcoming any objections that might arise because of your experience, whether the issue is too much experience or too little.

Prepare your story.

Why do you want this job? If the answer is, “Because I need to pay the electric bill,” that’s perfectly valid – but not the one you want to trot out during the interview process.

If you can demonstrate that you understand the company and its mission, and connect that to your own career goals, you’ll be able to persuade the hiring manager that you’re passionate about joining the organization — that this isn’t just a fallback option or temporary whim for you.

Don’t hide your light.

There’s a difference between trimming your unrelated experience and trying to seem less savvy than you are. Don’t make the mistake of dumbing it down in the interview process.

Remember that employers want to hire workers who are dedicated, savvy, and excited about the work. Your goal is to show that you connect with the role and the company, not to pass yourself off as someone who has less to offer.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Closet Lesson: What the Stuff in Your Closet Can Teach You About Personal Finance

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working on a long-term project of cleaning out the various closets and storage spaces around our home, determining which if any of the things I find need to be kept, putting the things back in a sensible fashion, and then figuring out what to do with the remaining things. Yard sale? Craigslist? Goodwill? Trash can? Hand-me-down? There are a lot of options.

In the process, a lot of objects have passed through my hands. Virtually all of them were things that someone in our family chose to spend money on at some point, but eventually that item was pushed aside and essentially forgotten.

Perhaps the item wasn’t as useful as was originally thought. Maybe it’s a book that was read once and was recognized as probably not worth a re-read. Maybe it’s a movie that went through the same process. Maybe it’s an item for a baby or a toddler and now that our children are well beyond the baby/toddler stage, the item has no real use any more.

The worst items, in my opinion, are the ones that were never opened. There are a few scattered in there – movies bought that were intended to be watched with the family but other options won out on family movie night, for instance. I’ve found a few baby items that were never opened, like a bottle warmer, as well as a few gift items, both purchased and never given as well as received and never used.

There’s really no purpose in keeping all of this stuff. When I’m honest with myself, the truth is that we’re never going to use these things. They’re just stuffed into storage with reasonable intentions that will never be fulfilled.

But here’s the painful truth.

Each one of those items represents some amount of money that we spent. In a few cases, they’re items that we received as gifts, but we still usually had to give a gift in exchange.

That money spent was essentially wasted. Even when I’m looking at books that I read once and put aside, I can’t help but wonder why on earth I didn’t just check the book out at the library. Did I really need to own End of Watch in hardcover? No, no, I didn’t.

Even if I sell off all of this stuff, I’m not going to recoup nearly the cost of all of these items. It’s lost money, no matter how I slice it. It’s money down the tubes. There were so many better ways I could have used that money, too: saving for retirement, doing something meaningful with the kids… the options really are endless.

So, what I’ve been doing as I sell off or get rid of each item is to get a little bit of extra value from that mistake of a purchase.

First, I’m asking myself what on earth possessed me to buy this item to begin with. Why did we buy this movie? I suppose we thought it would be a good option for family movie night. Why did we buy this bottle warmer? I suppose we envisioned scenarios where we might want to warm up bottles in the night. Why did we buy this book? Sarah wanted to read it pretty urgently.

The answers go on and on and on like this, with every item pulled out and every item put aside to be sold or given away.

I follow that question with another question. What can I do, in each of those cases, to avoid making the same foolish mistake?

This is the real question here. Avoiding the mistake to begin with would not only have saved us money, it would have also saved me from this project of digging through closets and figuring out what to get rid of and what to keep. If I had simply made better decisions to begin with, not only would I have more money right now, I’d have more free time right now, too. I could be reading a great book instead of cleaning out this closet. I could be playing a game with my kids. I could be working on a couple ongoing hobby projects that I’d way rather be doing.

I don’t want to repeat this.

So, with each item, I’m trying to understand not only why I bought that item, but how I can avoid making that same purchasing mistake, and it turns out that each and every item that I pull out has a lesson to teach me.

The baby bottle warmer? It teaches me to actually look for real problems in the routines I have right now rather than guessing what kind of problems I might have someday. Don’t buy things just because you can visualize a use for it that hasn’t happened yet in your life.

The book? It teaches me to look at the library before buying a book. If I check out a book at the library, finish it, and then decide that I want to reference it again or even read it again down the road, it might make for a good purchase then. Now? I might as well go to the library. Don’t buy things if it’s trivially easy to borrow them.

The movie? It teaches me that buying more movies when we already have a flood of options isn’t always the smartest choice. We already have a ton of family movies available to us thanks to our already-existing DVD/Bluray collection and the flood of options on Netflix. We easily have a thousand movies available at our fingertips for family movie night. Why are we adding more to the mix? Don’t buy things if you have an abundance of similar options already underused at home.

The toddler toys? It teaches me that sometimes children outgrow things, and when they do they’ll almost never return to them unless it is a deeply-loved item. An attentive parent can tell when a child has outgrown an item, and once you’re sure that you won’t have more children, putting that item in storage is kind of wasteful. It also teaches me that children really don’t need that many things. They often have more things than they can ever truly enjoy, so adding more to the mix isn’t helpful. Don’t buy too many things for kids; focus on quality over quantity every time.

The pieces of exercise equipment? It teaches me that buying equipment isn’t going to start a new routine all by itself. If you have an exercise routine, that equipment might help enhance it, but all of the gear in the world isn’t magically going to create an exercise routine for you. Don’t buy things to create a new routine or behavior for yourself; only buy things to support a routine or behavior you’ve already established for yourself.

As I pull them out of storage and put them to the side to trade off or to sell or to trash, each of those items is giving me a valuable lesson about my own spending choices going forward. Often, the lessons are repeated over and over, but those are the most important ones.

Don’t buy things just because you can visualize a use for it that hasn’t happened yet in your life.

Don’t buy things if it’s trivially easy to borrow them and you won’t continuously use them.

Don’t buy things if you have an abundance of similar options already underused at home.

Don’t buy too many things for kids; focus on quality over quantity every time.

Don’t buy things to create a new routine or behavior for yourself.

Those are some great guiding principles when it comes to deciding whether or not to purchase something new. They guide you away from buying things that you’re not going to get full value from and allow you to instead focus on things you’ll actually use and which will provide a lot of value to you.

The next time you find yourself cleaning out a closet or making decisions about what to do with your abundance of stuff, take a look at each item. Why did you buy it? Why didn’t you use it very much? Why did it wind up in storage? And why are you now considering giving it away or selling it? Those questions, when answered, will teach you valuable lessons about your own spending behaviors and help you shape a better set of principles going forward.

The end result will be more money in your pocket and less unwanted stuff filling up your storage spaces.

Good luck!

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First-Time Home Buyer? Check Out These Helpful Programs

If you’re a first-time home buyer, you undoubtedly have that mix of excitement and fear we all experience. The thrill of owning a house coupled with the anxiety of making sure you can afford it can lead you to the medicine cabinet for a couple of antacid tablets.

Before you pop open the Tums, take a look at the plethora of programs available to first-time buyers. Being able to take advantage of one of these resources will save you money as well as a case of heartburn. The internet offers a lot of information on these programs. A capable lender can lend further assistance.

FHA Loans

This is the most traditional type of loan program for first-time buyers. A part of HUD, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is a great resource if you’re looking to become a homeowner. Basically, a loan from this organization is insured through FHA, which can result in lower closing costs and low down payments. First-time home buyers can often get a mortgage with a down payment as low as 3.5% of the cost of the house.

VA Loans

To help those who have served our country, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers loan programs that are quite appealing, especially for first time home buyers. The benefits of a VA loan include competitive interest rates, small or even no down payment, and ease of qualification – including some flexibility when it comes to your credit score.

Fannie Mae’s 97% LTV Loan

This relatively new program, courtesy of Fannie Mae, which focuses on affordable homeownership for low- and middle-income Americans, gives first-time home buyers the option of putting as little as 3% down on the purchase of a house. This is a major boost for first-time buyers, many of whom, without an existing home to trade up from, struggle to save up the traditional 20% down payment that most conventional mortgages require.

Keep in mind that, because a down payment is meant to protect the lender, such low-down-payment loans require private mortgage insurance (PMI). PMI runs an average of 0.5% to 1% of the total loan amount, and can be paid upfront or monthly. You can visit the Fannie Mae website for more options for new and existing home buyers.

Freddie Mac First-Time Home Buyer Loans

Similar to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac works within the secondary mortgage market to make home buying affordable for more Americans. A variety of mortgage programs sits under the Freddie Mac umbrella; many are ideal for first-time buyers.

Among these are the Home Possible Mortgage, which provides flexible credit terms and low (3% to 5%) down payments, and the Affordable Merit Rate Mortgage, designed for borrowers with credit challenges. Be sure to research all of the mortgage programs within Freddie Mac for eligibility and borrower responsibility.

USDA Loans

The United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides a variety of loan options for those purchasing homes in rural areas. Property and income eligibility requirements differ by state. It’s possible to qualify for a 100%, no-money-down loan backed by the USDA, and interest rates are often lower than those found in conventional loans, according to the USDA.

State Programs

In addition to the above-mentioned programs, individual states have their own resources for first-time home buyers. For example, in Ohio, the Grants for Grads program awards borrowers who have obtained at least a two-year college degree. Georgia offers the Dream Program, a 30-year fixed rate first mortgage for buyers with a household income totaling no more than $69,000 for one or two people. The Energy Efficient Interest Rate Reduction Program in Alaska applies to new or existing energy-efficient homes.

Check with the state in which you plan to buy your first home to see what options are available to you. Every state also has a housing finance agency, which may offer low-down-payment loans and other help for first-time home buyers; you can look up your state’s agency here.

No matter the type of first-time home buyer program you seek, be sure to do your homework. Visit the sites of the programs to learn both the pros and cons and any criteria that determine your eligibility. Be sure that the loan rates, money down, monthly payments, and other requirements are within your budget. In addition, ask your lender about the programs that interest you to get professional guidance in making this very important decision.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Attentional Bias: Why You Talk Yourself Into Buying the Thing You’re Obsessing Over in Your Head… and How to Stop It

Every few days, my attention will be grabbed by some new thing (or, on occasion, some old thing that had slipped my mind). Maybe it’s a movie. Maybe it’s a board game. Maybe it’s a new gadget. Maybe it’s a book.

Whatever that thing is, something about it sucks in my attention. I’ll read an article about it or watch a video related to it and suddenly that item is on my mind.

I’ll think about it as I go through my day. When my mind wanders, often it’s that book or that game that slips right into my conscious thought. I think about the topic that it covers and the fun I would have reading that book or playing that game.

The more I do this, the more strongly I feel about that item. The positive impact that the item would have on my life grows and grows in my mind, often to ridiculous proportions. This book would literally change how I think about the world. This gadget would completely alter how efficiently I can work and get things done. This game would be a huge hit with my game group, bring many hours of fun, and get played over and over again.

Over time, those consistent thoughts start overinflating all of the positive traits of the item and completely washing away all of the negative traits. I’ll notice more and more people having that item or similar items. I’ll find more and more offhand references to that item in the things I see and do. I become more and more convinced that I must have this item.

More often than I’d like, all of that winds up with a purchase. More often than I’d like, after I make the purchase, the item really wasn’t all that life-changing after all.

A few days or a week later, the whole cycle starts again with something new.

Sound familiar? This is something called attentional bias at work. Here’s a description:

Attentional bias is the tendency of our perception to be affected by our recurring thoughts. For example, people who frequently think about the clothes they wear pay more attention to the clothes of others.

In other words, if you have recurring positive thoughts about something, your overall impression of that thing is going to become more and more positive and you’re going to become more and more aware of it in the world. (The same thing is true – if you have recurring negative thoughts about something, your impression is going to grow more and more negative and you’re also going to be more aware of it.)

As you can imagine, this doesn’t just pop up in our desire to buy things or own things. It pops up in things like our political beliefs, our intellectual interests, and so on.

If we give something our mental attention, our perception of it is going to change due to that prolonged attention, with that perception often becoming very exaggerated based on small details. The things we give our attention to – often the positive things if it’s something we’re interested in or that we desire – tend to blow themselves completely out of proportion.

People will often do this when they first fall in love with someone and develop a small crush on that person. They’ll take the positive traits they see in that person and grow and grow and grow them until that person is put on an unrealistic pedestal.

I’ll give you another example using my hobby of playing board games. I might read about a particular board game online that sounds interesting. In my head, I’ll imagine playing it with my game group. If the description is particularly interesting, my thoughts about the game will be very positive. If the thoughts start recurring, meaning that they pop up in my casual thinking, it won’t be long before I start to imagine the game getting played over and over and over and how it will be a huge hit with my game group and with my family and how it will lead to a lot of great social and intellectual experiences. Eventually, if I don’t recognize what’s happening and do something to correct it, it begins to seem like a no-brainer to spend some of my hobby money on that game. When I do it – and I often will if I don’t do something about my attentional bias – I’ll almost always find that it isn’t the mega-hit that I hoped it would be.

Another example: I have a friend who is obsessed with playing his guitar. He has spent absurd amounts of money on various instruments and various items to accompany those instruments. He perceives these giant differences between different guitars and different strings. Sure, I can hear differences between them sometimes, but he’ll spend hundreds of dollars on a new guitar or modifications to an old guitar only to have the change be so minor that I literally can’t hear it. To him, the differences are huge and highly important; to me, since my attention is not focused on those differences, they’re essentially nonexistent.

Think about your own life. Have you ever fallen prey to attentional bias? Think about some of the things you’ve wanted the most in your life. Did you exaggerate the positive traits of that thing completely out of proportion? Did you end up talking yourself into making a purchase or taking an action that you probably wouldn’t have done had you not blown those positive traits out of proportion?

That’s the challenge of attentional bias, and it crops up more often than you think.

It’s well worth your time to try to combat attentional bias when it crops up in your life. It’s perfectly fine to have a deep interest in something, but when that deep interest is skewing your buying habits into an area where you’re spending lots of extra money on that interest, you may want to check whether or not attentional bias is affecting your spending and put that attentional bias (and that extra spending) in check. Here are some ways to do just that.

Talk to Trusted People Who Aren’t as Focused

If you’re considering spending your hard-earned money on something you’ve been talking yourself into, stop before you buy and talk to someone you know that you trust first. Ask what they think, but try not to load the question. Seek out their unvarnished opinion on whatever it is you’re considering doing or buying.

Make sure that you use a person that you truly trust for this, because you’ll need to trust what they tell you, even if it doesn’t match what you want to hear. Remember, they’re not succumbing to attentional bias as you might be, so they’re often seeing things outside of the distorted funhouse mirror that attentional bias can create.

One difficulty with this is finding someone who knows a little about your area of interest, but isn’t as focused on it as you are. Find someone who is casually interested in the item you’re talking about. If you find someone with zero interest, there’s a good chance that they will have little idea of what you’re talking about. If you find someone with a very deep interest, they’re probably subject to many of the same attentional biases that you are.

For example, I often use my wife for these things. She has some interest in the things that I am passionate about and knows about them, but she doesn’t hold the same burning passion in many of those areas. Thus, she’s a good person to help me figure out whether something makes sense as a purchase or not.

Do Research and Look Primarily for Criticism

Whenever I find myself locked into that cycle of hyperinflating the quality of an item, I choose to start doing more research on the item. In particular, I look for negative reviews and criticism of that item.

What’s not good about it? Are there other options that are better choices (I particularly like these, especially if the other options are ones that I already own or have experience with)? In what areas is this product not up to snuff?

I’ve found that, time and time again, a negative review of an item can shatter that funhouse mirror quite effectively. It can bring me right back down to earth about an item and make me see that perhaps it would not be a good idea to spend a lot of money on that item.

Give Yourself a Thirty Day Waiting Period

I’ve referred to this concept in the past as the “thirty day rule,” and it definitely holds true when combating attentional bias. Giving yourself thirty days before you take any action regarding that purchase gives your mind plenty of time to move onto other things – and it often will.

What I’ve found is that many of the things that grab my focus for a while tend to hold onto it for a week or two and then, if I don’t take action on that desire, it will naturally start to fade out and my mind will move onto other things. What happens, I think, is that a mix of the other strategies plus my own subconscious mind come together to cause me to subconsciously realize that I’m overinflating that item, and when it comes back down to earth I no longer have that overwhelming interest in it.

Thus, when the thirty days are up, it becomes pretty easy to say “no” to that item. I’m no longer hyperinflating the positive traits of the item and I have a much more realistic grasp on what the item is and what role it would fill in my life.

Time is one of the most effective responses to attentional bias. If there’s a true quality factor involved there, time won’t sand it away, but if it’s just an inflated perspective due to your short-term focus, time will cause those inflated traits to disappear.

Intentionally Explore Other Interests

Whenever I find myself focused on a particular item, it’s usually because that particular area of my life has been receiving a lot of my attention lately. For example, if I’m becoming unduly focused on a board game, that means I’ve been strongly focused on board games as of late, for better or worse.

Like many people, I wish to lead a balanced life when it comes to my hobbies and personal interests, so whenever I see attentional bias coming to the forefront, it’s a call for me to focus on other things for a while.

I’ll spend some days hiking. I’ll spend a few hours reading a book when I might have spent it organizing or reading board game rules. I’ll do anything other than touching on that area of interest that has driven me to obsess over that one purchase.

Almost always, intentional flcos on those other areas of life quickly causes my attentional bias to cool off. I take that object that I was so focused on off of the pedestal and it quickly returns to normal proportions, which means I’m quickly much less interested in buying it.

Look at the Realities of Your Life in Unbiased Ways

How much time do I really spend playing board games? How much time do I really spend watching movies or playing video games or reading books? The truth is that, as much as I love doing those things, the time devoted to each in a given month is actually fairly small.

Now, how much time can I free up for this new purchase? It will take away from the time spent on the things I already have. I have board games I haven’t played nearly enough to explore the strategic corners. I have movies that have only been watched once or haven’t been watched at all. I have several unread books and a library full of more unread books.

The reality is that my life really doesn’t have much room to enjoy many of the things that I would buy, so I owe it to myself to be very careful about additional purchases. I don’t have tons of free time as it is, so finding free time for this new thing is actually pretty tough.

Consider the Opportunity Cost

The phrase “opportunity cost” simply refers to the fact that whenever you spend time or money on something, that means that you’re simultaneously unable to spend that time or money on anything else, which is a hidden “cost” of using that time or energy.

For example, if I spend $1,000 on a new television, that means that I’m unable to spend that $1,000 saving for retirement or paying off debt or buying a new pair of hiking boots (and $800 worth of other stuff).

When you’re obsessing over something due to attentional bias, you can still be aware of the opportunity cost of buying that item, and quite often that knowledge is enough to create a seed of doubt about your purchase. Sure, you could buy this item you’re obsessing over, but look at the things you can’t buy now as a result of that purchase.

It’s a great little trick to use to talk yourself out of all kinds of purchases.

Take a Different Action

Quite often, the pressure that you put on yourself to buy this item due to your continued focus on it can be punctured if you simply take a different action related to that item.

For example, you might choose to add the item to your Amazon wish list rather than buying it, or you might choose to take a picture of it and send it to a friend who may someday buy it for you as a gift. You might choose to write about it in your pocket notebook or your journal.

Often, taking some tangible action beyond merely thinking about the item can burst that bubble of intense focus that you have regarding the item. By simply doing something about it, you can create a sense of relief from all of that focus. You did something, so that’s often enough.

I personally like the “Amazon wish list” strategy myself. I’ll put stuff on there and, quite often, my desire for that item fades very quickly.

Clear Your Mind

One of the best practices I’ve ever added to my life is that of focused meditation. I do this at least twice a day and it has done an incredible amount to help me clear my mind from distraction and help me focus on the task at hand.

Whenever I am regular in my practice of focused meditation, I find that attentional bias is much, much less severe in my life. I don’t simply lock into one thing and become obsessed with it. Instead, I find that I’m able to hold my attention and focus on things without quickly falling into a trap of overinflating the positives.

In other words, focused meditation enables me to be much more rational about evaluating the positives and negatives of something I’m thinking about. It provides something of a subconscious safeguard against falling into the trap of attentional bias.

If you want to give focused meditation a shot, I recommend starting at Calm.com. It works on almost any device and provides great guided meditation for focusing.

Final Thoughts

All of these strategies serve one purpose: they help fight against attentional bias. Attentional bias is what happens when you become overly focused on a single thing, as you begin to distort the true features of that item. You inflate the importance of some features far beyond their actual importance compared to other features or other things in the real world, and it can easily lead to incredibly strong desires to purchase that item.

Attentional bias is something that happens to all of us. For me, it can happen pretty frequently if I don’t stay ahead of it, so I use these strategies constantly to keep it at bay. I don’t want to fall into that mindset of excessive expectations, because not only is it expensive, it usually ends up with disappointment – the money’s gone and I’m holding something that didn’t live up to what I expected of it once the “honeymoon” wears off and I no longer have that attentional bias.

If you find yourself in that cycle – obsessing over a particular item, eventually talking yourself into buying it, and then feeling disappointment when the newness wears off and you realize it wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be – use some of these strategies. They really help in combating one of the primary ingredients in that recipe for overspending.

If I had to suggest one tactic above all the others, try focused meditation. I find that it cleans up my thinking incredibly well and helps me see when I’m falling into the trap of attentional bias. It also simply helps me get through my day-to-day life and greatly helps me with my focus on workplace tasks.

Good luck!

The post Attentional Bias: Why You Talk Yourself Into Buying the Thing You’re Obsessing Over in Your Head… and How to Stop It appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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