In the world of food, Great Britain may be best known for its roast dinners and fish & chips. With so much influence from our European countries, it’s no surprise that we’ve adopted a number of their own original dishes and claimed them for our own. Of course, even our best attempts are futile compared to sampling the genuine article in its country of origin. When making your European travel plans, remember to renew your EHIC card in order to cover yourself against the expensive cost of medical bills if you require treatment while abroad. Once your application is approved you’ll be able to enjoy the following meals during your European break. Continue reading
There’s no denying that budgeting isn’t every student’s strong point. After rent is paid for and the necessary amenity bills leave your bank account, it can often be quite daunting to even think about looking at your balance afterwards. Many students even forego proper food shopping to save money, but it doesn’t have to be this way at all. Continue reading
There are 10,000 different mortgages now on the market — so how do you go about picking the right one? Step one, according to Brian Murphy, head of lending at Mortgage Advice Bureau, is to employ the services of an independent mortgage broker who deals with all banks and building societies. “As brokers work on behalf of the consumer rather than a lender, they provide unbiased advice and seek out a range of mortgage deals rather than those belonging to a specific lender that may not be the best fit,” he says . “If they do their job right, the broker should more than make up for their fee through the savings they generate.”
The other skill of a good broker is to save you time and potentially a lot of stress by placing the deal with the right lender first time, says Lea Karasavvas, managing director of Prolific Mortgage Finance. “Knowing the market and obtaining speed of service is a vital part of saving money. With rates withdrawn so quickly in the current climate, choosing the wrong lender could mean losing two to three months of saving on a mortgage — so time is almost as important as the rate itself,”he says.
Building wealth boils down to a pretty simple equation: Either spend less money, or earn more of it. We offer plenty of ways to tighten up your spending and keep more money in your pocket, but at some point, there are no cuts left to make.
Whether you’re a stay-at-home parent looking for work you can fit in during naps, or you’re hungry for a side job and the extra cash it can provide, it’s hard to beat the convenience — and, sometimes, the pay — of work-from-home freelance jobs. The good news is, there really are legitimate ways to make extra money online, if you have (or are willing to learn) the right skill set.
We looked at freelance marketplace Elance.com to find 11 business niches where demand for freelance services is on the rise.
Doodle Video Creation
Over the past few years, the concept of doodling — yes, that same aimless scribbling you did in high school history class — has grown in popularity, and more companies are beginning to employ it. The practice of doodling is being lauded as a way to better spark creativity, retain information, and to share complex concepts in an easily understood way.
“Infodoodling,” a term coined by Austin, Texas-based consultant and author Sunni Brown, helps companies tell their (probably boring) stories in a more interesting and engaging manner. And with researchers saying that doodle videos can be 800% more engaging, and can help people retain information 29% better than they could otherwise, you can expect this industry to see significant growth. Therefore, if you are creative with images and visual organization, you might consider offering this service.
To become a doodle video creator, you’d need to learn video animation skills. Successful freelance creators on sites like Elance and Odesk are fluent in skills such as Adobe Premiere, Adobe After Effects, Adobe Illustrator, Camtasia, Adobe Photoshop, jQuery, whiteboard animation, motion graphics, illustration and graphic design, Flash animation, and cartooning. In general, a doodle video that’s less than two minutes long can pay up to few hundred dollars, and it can take several hours or more to produce.
You might frown at anything involving writing, because you probably know plenty of writers out there who are looking for a paid gig. On Elance, however, the demand for scriptwriting services grew 43% over the last quarter, and there are now roughly 21,000 posted jobs in this category.
The demand for scriptwriters may continue to grow, and it has nothing to do with Hollywood. Here’s why: Companies are finding that video is more engaging than text, which means they are producing more video content for their websites, internal communications, social media, and advertisements. And for every video, they need a script – which is where scriptwriters come in.
To make yourself marketable, take a course or certificate program in scriptwriting or screenwriting. Familiarize yourself with the format by reading plays or popular scripts; reading how-to books and studying successful scriptwriters and their work will also help. Fundamentally, you will need to have a strong imagination, and be able to convey your ideas (or the business client’s strategy) in a clear, simple, and creative manner — sometimes, as in radio ads, using only dialogue and sound effects. Pay ranges from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars per script, depending on your experience and the complexity and length of the project.
As the Internet connects more people around the world every day, it’s a given that language translation skills will be in demand, since we don’t all share the same first language. So it’s not surprising to learn that translation services was one of the fastest-growing industries in 2013, with revenues now topping $3 billion.
Obviously, to offer translation services, you have to be fluent in a second language. But if you have a knack for languages, it could even be worth your time to learn one of the most sought-after languages, as the translation market will only keep growing as long as the Internet exists (or until Google Translate gets more sophisticated and nuanced).
Translators Café is a good place to find more information on industry trends and the language combinations that are most in demand. The site even analyzes supply and demand trends within the industry. Hourly rates average about $25.
Copywriting is another skill that’s growing in demand. On Elance, demand for freelancers with copywriting skills grew by 40% over the last quarter, rising up to 105,000 posted jobs.
What’s driving the growth in demand for copywriting services? As the economy grows, more businesses are expanding or starting up, especially online, and they constantly need new Web and ad copy to sell their products and services.
When it comes to copywriting, a solid portfolio is everything. If you have little or no experience writing Web or ad copy, take a class or two in the subject and develop some sample works you could use as a portfolio. Or, offer to take on some small jobs for free or at a steep discount — write all the descriptions for your cousin’s new Etsy shop, or compose copy for the flyers advertising your town’s annual fair. And remember, the key to good copywriting is to make it convincing and concise.
Many consider writing about sports a dream job, and as such it’s a fairly competitive industry. But it’s also another fast-growing area of freelance writing. Demand for freelancers with sports writing skills grew 19% over the last quarter, a that trend could continue due to the ongoing shift from print to online-based sports content. This shift is driving many sports publications to cut their staff writers in favor of less costly freelancers.
If you want to be a sports writer, it’s helpful if you love — and have an in-depth knowledge of — a particular sport. Sports writers may get to cover the sport they’re most passionate about, but often they’re also required to cover high school games and other athletic events.
This is another industry where it’s essential to have some clips, or published works, to show prospective clients. To get started, offer to write for a local sports blog for free until you have a respectable amount of quality posts to show for it; the practice will make you a better, faster writer, too. You could also take a course in sports journalism to help you understand how the profession works and to develop contacts in the industry.
Essentially, voice acting is the art of audio performance, such as recording voice-over narration or performing voices for animated characters in a wide array of works like feature films, corporate training videos, foreign language films, commercials, and so on.
Online video and audio content are bound to continue growing because they foster better audience engagement. This means the demand for voice talent should grow along with it. So if you’re good or creative with your voice, you might want to consider auditioning as a voice actor. If you’re interested, but you’re not sure about your voice, don’t worry: This sort of skill can be learned and honed.
Voices.com, a leading marketplace of vocal talent, says that voice actors have earned over $39 million from its platform alone, averaging about $250 per job. The company also said in its 2013 industry report that “the average fee per job has increased by 10% in the last two years.”
Simply put, transcription is the conversion of speech to a written text document. The transcription market has seen impressive growth in recent years, and demand for freelancers with transcription skills rose 7% over the last quarter on Elance.
The opportunity in this industry has always been impressive, but the Internet only magnifies it. And if you’re fluent in other high-demand languages, there’s even more demand for your services. The rise of digital boardrooms, webinars, and video conferencing means the demand for transcriptionists should keep growing.
To be successful in this industry, set up a professional website, adding positive references as you get them, so interested organizations know you are a professional in the field. Hourly rates range between $12 and $17, but there are higher paying markets as well.
The almighty Google is the biggest reason for the growth in demand for product description writing services. You may already know that Google frequently changes its algorithm to reward websites that have good content. As reported by Wall Street Journal in 2011, online businesses that didn’t have what Google considers useful content lost significant traffic, which led to a decline in sales.
This, in turn, led more retail companies to stop using the standard product descriptions provided by manufacturers and to hire freelancers to create new, unique product descriptions. And the growing array of online products — and even the companies that sell them, like Wayfair, Woot, and Overstock.com — means that the demand for this service will likely keep growing.
Being a product description writer requires you to be a good researcher, with the ability to convert sometimes dry and technical specifications into something an average person will want to read.
Press Release Writing
This is another job being helped by the growing economy. When a company does something it wants people to know about — such as opening a new store location, launching a new product, or putting on an event — it sends out a press release in hopes that reporters will write a story about it.
The press release itself is often written like a news story — but with an insufferably positive spin — peppered with quotes from the CEO or other company spokespeople. A background in either journalism or marketing would give you a leg up on the competition, since writing a press release may require conducting interviews and more or less boils down to a narrative marketing pitch.
The demand for freelancers with press release writing skills grew 17% over the past quarter on Elance.
According to a 2013 report from IBISWorld, social gaming was the hottest niche in 2013. The report said the social gaming niche saw explosive growth of over 180% between 2008 and 2013. And it will keep growing as long as social networks exist, which creates opportunities for game developers.
You’ll need to have or learn skills such as computer programming and game design to have a chance in this niche. But while these skills are in high demand, there are more options than ever when it comes to learning them as developer boot camps and online programming courses are available everywhere.
Information Technology Security Consulting
Recent high-profile data breaches at major companies like Home Depot and Target have helped spur demand for IT security services. IBISWorld ranked it as the fifth hottest business in 2013, estimating that the industry will see a 5-year compound annual growth rate of 10% as companies invest in more technology — and hire more IT professionals to keep those systems secure.
To become a freelance IT security consultant, you’ll need to possess a thorough knowledge of networks, databases, and computer viruses, and know how to evaluate computer systems for weaknesses. Certifications such as Microsoft (MCSE) and Cisco (CCIE) will also increase your chances of securing a gig. And as with any freelance or consulting role, a professional website will help establish your credibility and market your brand.
This post is by staff writer Honey Smith.
When I was in college, one of my co-workers at my part-time, on-campus job gave me a funny little gift that I use to this day. What was it? It’s called a “wallet fairy.” According to the note that came with my little talisman, you put it in your wallet and “you’ll never be out of money when you need it.”
I can’t honestly say that the “magic” has been foolproof. I believe I’ve mentioned on a couple of occasions the time I didn’t wash my hair for a month because I couldn’t afford shampoo. And I distinctly remember crying after going to the grocery store on a couple of occasions because I didn’t know how I was going to pay my bills after buying food. But I guess if the magic were foolproof, this fool wouldn’t have learned her lesson and started digging her way out of debt, right?
But you know what? National Preparedness Month (a.k.a. “September”) may be over, but it’s always a good idea to consider your plans if an emergency occurs. And after the flash flooding we saw this year in Phoenix, I am thinking a lot more seriously about what it would be like to be out of money when I need it. I’m starting to think that it’s important to keep cash readily available, but I wanted to really sort out why and how much and where. So here goes….
Should you keep an emergency “cash stash”?
To be clear, I’m not talking about keeping an extra $20 in your wallet (not that that’s a bad idea). I’m talking about keeping a significant amount of cash on hand in case of emergencies — in the hundreds or thousands of dollars. Here are the pros and cons for doing so that I can think of:
Pro: Out of sight, out of mind. Even if you put your emergency fund in an online-only account such as Capital One 360 (formerly ING), at least it’s there. You receive bank statements reminding you of its presence. Maybe it factors into your Mint net worth. Stashing actual physical money somewhere out of the way means you are less likely to think about it (and thus, be tempted to spend it) unless there’s a true emergency.
Con: Not earning interest. If you invest your money, you are (hopefully) earning interest faster than inflation can erode the value of your cash. The “common wisdom” is that inflation is about 3 percent annually, so you should aim to beat that benchmark, taking into account things like diversification and your own risk tolerance. Even parking your cash in a savings account with their interest rates of 0.95 percent or less (based on this week’s savings account rates) is better than nothing, right?
Pro: Peace of mind. Cash can’t be garnished like a paycheck or bank account, and it isn’t easily traced. For some people, having access to money that flies under the radar, so to speak, may make them feel more secure.
Con: If it’s gone, it’s gone. See above: Cash isn’t easily traced. If you lose the money, it gets destroyed, you are robbed, etc., you may have very little recourse.
Are there other significant pros and cons to having cash on hand that I am missing?
How much should you keep?
Assuming that you’ve decided keeping some amount of cash on hand is best for your particular situation, the next question becomes: How much cash, exactly, should you keep? A solid emergency fund may be three to six months’ worth of expenses, but that is probably more than most people are comfortable keeping in cash. Not to mention, even at sub-one-percent interest rates, when you start getting into the thousands of dollars, you start missing out on a decent chunk of change.
The logical question to ask yourself at this point is, What emergency situations do you think would require physical cash? For example, if you live in an area that is prone to natural disasters, keeping enough cash on hand to buy food and supplies in the event that credit/debit isn’t an option (due to a power outage or what have you) may be smart. It’s important to be realistic, but there’s no need to be paranoid.
Where should you keep it?
I suppose theoretically, you could keep it anywhere. However, if you want to make sure that you’re the one who is actually keeping it, your main options are likely these:
In your home, in a diversion safe. A diversion safe is something that looks like an ordinary household item or product that actually is used to hide items of value. Diversion safes might look like books; cleaning chemicals (think a can of Ajax); cans of soda, water, or food; or even toiletries (think a can of hairspray). The pro is that diversion safes are relatively inexpensive, but most don’t actually require a lock to open. So if someone does happen upon it, the gig is up. Diversion safes also tend to be relatively small, which may be a pro or a con depending on your needs.
In your home, in an actual safe. A real safe is usually larger and can thus accommodate more items, if you have other valuables besides cash that you’d like to protect. It may require a key or combination to open (some are even biometric!) and, unlike most diversion safes, many are fireproof/waterproof or fire/water resistant. Accordingly, they also take up more space, are difficult to hide, and may be expensive.
In a safe deposit box. For a rental fee, your cash, other valuables, and important documents may be stored in a bank, post office, or other institution. The fee is usually fairly minimal for most needs, and you have the reassurance that most institutions offering this service are under some form of guard 24/7. However, that does mean if you want to access the contents of your box, you must leave your house. Depending on the circumstances under which you need to access your cash, this may or may not be feasible. After all, when was the last time you went to the bank?
There may also be indirect costs when storing items at home. If you have large amounts of cash or valuables, you may need or want a robust alarm system, for example, and that may entail an up-front cost and/or a monthly subscription.
Like most aspects of personal finance, I suspect that opinions on this topic vary widely. Do you keep physical cash? Why? How much cash is too much? And how do you balance issues of accessibility with the desire to keep your money safe?
Sometime around 2010, my husband and I realized that we weren’t making the most of our income. We knew we were wasting boatloads of money, yet we weren’t sure why it was happening or how to make it stop. In an effort to figure things out once and for all, we began tracking our spending to see where all of our money was going. And although it was a necessary step for us, it was both a painful and scary experience.
For starters, tracking our spending took a lot of time and effort, eating into the very little free time we had. Even worse, what we discovered about our spending was downright scary, mostly because we were spending way too much money on food, entertainment, and home repairs. Something had to give.
Small Spending Victories
And something did. As we tracked our spending from previous months and kept an eye on current ones, we found little and big ways to cut our expenses down to a reasonable level. We quit eating out at restaurants so much, for example, and cut the cord to our cable TV. And since food spending was one of our biggest problem areas, we began cooking most of our meals from scratch and avoiding convenience foods, too. The savings started adding up… and quickly.
Although those victories were huge for us, they still weren’t quite enough to make us happy. We wanted to make sure that the changes we made would be permanent, and that we wouldn’t accidentally fall back into old habits.
Somewhere along the line, we discovered a specific type of budgeting that was already popular with millions of people, although we didn’t know it at the time. It’s called zero-sum budgeting, and many experts believe it is far superior to any other type of budgeting system out there.
What is Zero-Sum Budgeting?
A zero-sum budget forces you to spend every dollar you make — just not in the way you think. The basic premise of the budgeting strategy is that you must “give each dollar a job” to prevent waste and maximize your income, with the ultimate goal of reaching zero at the end of each month. However, zero-sum budgeting works by usinglast month’s real income to pay this month’s expenses, so it is important to have a savings cushion equal to at least one month’s expenses before you get started.
Here’s how zero-sum budgets work, according to personal finance author Dave Ramsey:
“The point of a zero-based budget is to make income minus the outgo equal zero. If you cover all your expenses during the month and have $500 left over, you aren’t done with the budget yet. You must tell that 500 bucks where to go. If you don’t, you lose the chance to make it work for you in the areas of getting out of debt, saving for an emergency, investing, paying off the house, or growing wealth. Tell every dollar where to go.”
Basically, zero-sum budgeting forces you to allocate all of your dollars to something, whether you use the money for bills, debt repayment, or for savings. All of your dollars. Because, according to many budgeting experts, money “without a job” will likely get spent — often carelessly.
And that’s why many believe a zero-sum budget is the ideal financial plan for most hard-working families; nothing is wasted and every dollar has a purpose. When you create a comprehensive budget that accounts for everything, you theoretically shouldn’t have any cash left over to waste.
How to Create a Zero-Sum Budget
A zero-sum budget might sound like exactly what your family needs, but it can’t happen overnight. Certain steps need to take place in a certain order for a zero-sum budget to work effectively and help you accomplish your goals. Here’s how we created our zero-sum budget (and how you can create one too):
- Track your spending for 1-3 months: Before you get started, you need to know where your money has been disappearing to. If you use credit or debit for all of your spending, this can easily be accomplished by digging out your old credit or debit card statements. Some bank and credit card websites even offer spending tracker tools to simplify the process. (Or look into budgeting apps such as Mint and Level.) If you pay cash for everything, you need to start tracking your spending from this point on by saving receipts or writing down all your purchases in a notebook.
- List your common spending categories: Once your bank statement is right in front of you, figure out which categories the majority of your expenses fall into. These categories will be different for everyone, but might include things like groceries, restaurants, medical bills, entertainment, clothing, and transportation. You also need to list out all of your recurring monthly expenses such as your mortgage, insurance premiums, and utilities. Also make sure to create a category for miscellaneous expenses.
- Assign your spending to a category: Once you’ve written out all of your categories, go through each month (from first day to last) and assign each expense to the appropriate category. Add up each column to see your total spending in each category for each month.
- Zero in on problem areas: Seeing your spending in black and white might shock you. For example, you might find that you’ve spent far more than you ever dreamed at restaurants over the past few months, or that you’re overspending on hobbies to the tune of thousands of dollars. Regardless, this might just be your defining moment. Once you see how much money you’re wasting, you will be forced to make a change.
- Assign each category a new dollar figure: Discovering that you’re overspending in several areas can be a painful experience, but the only thing more painful is continuing on the same path. In order to make meaningful change, assign each category a new dollar figure that is reasonable, yet restrictive. For example, if you’ve been spending $1,000 on groceries each month, start by cutting that number down to $700 for the following month.
Once you’ve created a new budget with updated categories and dollar figures, you need to compare that budget to your actual earnings. In the best-case scenario, you’re spending far less than you earn and can immediately begin allocating your surplus funds to debt repayment and/or savings. In the worst-case scenario, you’re still spending more than you earn and you need to make additional cuts for your budget to work.
Getting a Month Ahead
Since zero-sum budgeting uses last month’s income to pay this month’s bills, you’ll need to get one month ahead on your finances to make this work. Getting one month ahead can be accomplished by saving one month’s expenses in your regular savings account and using those funds for the following month’s budget.
If you already have at least one month’s expenses saved, you are already a step ahead of the rest. Simply use those funds to pay the expenses you’ve outlined during the next month’s budget, and sock this month’s income away into savings for use during the following month.
Zero-Sum Budgeting Based on Your Real Income
If you earn the same amount of money every month, creating a zero-sum budget should be a breeze. Let’s say you and your spouse get paid the same amount of money every other Friday, and two paydays occurred during the last calendar month. When creating your budget for the upcoming month, you will simply add up the pay you received during that month and create your next month’s budget based on that figure.
Since zero-sum budgets use last month’s income to pay this month’s bills, irregular incomes are also compatible with this budgeting style. Simply add up your paychecks from last month in order to figure out how much money you have to work with this month — and make cuts as needed.
One thing you’ll notice is that months with lower earnings will squeeze your budget to its breaking point. Use these months to figure out if you have any spending categories that could be whittled down even further. Months with higher earnings, on the other hand, should make the following month an easy one when it comes to your budget. Since you’re giving each dollar “a job,” you can easily allocate those extra funds toward your debts or savings for speedier progress.
Zero-Sum Budgeting in Real Life
Since using a zero-sum budget sounds entirely more complicated than it really is, I decided to create a zero-sum budgeting scenario that will show exactly how the system works in real life.
Let’s start with the Miller family, who took home $6,000 last month after accounting for taxes and pre-tax retirement contributions. If they tracked their spending for last month, it might look something like this:
- Mortgage: $900
- Groceries: $800
- Car insurance: $100
- Auto loan: $450
- Cable TV and Internet: $250
- Cell phones: $250
- Gas: $200
- Utilities: $400
- Clothes: $500
- Entertainment: $500
- Miscellaneous: $300
- Restaurant meals: $600
- Credit Card Monthly Payments: $750
As you can see, the Millers spent every dollar they earned last month — but in ways that are not likely to pay off for them in the long run. Based on their new information, the Millers decide to make a zero-sum budget that will begin on the first day of the following month.
Since they are spending so much on non-necessities, the Millers decide to make some drastic changes in their spending. The fact that they are currently paying $750 per month in credit card bills also sets off a red flag for the Millers, who decide they want that debt gone once and for all. If they created a zero-sum budget using their $6,000 monthly income for the following month, it might look something like this:
- Mortgage: $900
- Groceries: $600
- Car insurance: $100
- Auto loan: $450
- Cable TV & Internet: $100
- Cell phones: $150
- Gas: $200
- Utilities: $400
- Clothes: $250
- Entertainment: $300
- Miscellaneous: $300
- Restaurant meals: $250
- Credit card monthly payments: $2,000
As you can see, the Millers made some drastic changes. Disgusted with their wasteful spending, the Millers cut their grocery bill by $200, their monthly clothing allowance by $250, entertainment by $200, and their restaurant spending by a whopping $350. Not only that, they also downgraded their cable television and cell phone plans to save an additional $250 per month.
The results of those spending cuts combined adds up to a total of $1,250 – a sum of money the Millers have chosen to allocate to their high interest credit card debt. With a monthly payment of $2,000, they estimate that this plan will help them pay off their credit card debt within 3-4 months. After that, they can then begin saving $1,250 per month for emergencies and the future.
Tips for Zero-Sum Budgeting
Zero-sum budgeting might sound complicated, but it is actually very easy to implement once you get the general concept down. But, as with most things, certain actions do help make the process run smoother. If you’re considering a zero-sum budget of your own, these tips can help:
- Budget for everything: Creating a zero-sum budget will only work if you are willing to budget for everything – even things you wish you didn’t have to budget for to begin with. When writing out your monthly budget, make sure to include all categories where you spend money. Doing so is the only way to ensure success!
- Overestimate variable expenses: Variable expenses can be hard to estimate at times, especially when it comes to costs that fluctuate – things like utility bills and gas usage. With these items, I tend to err on the side of caution. If you overestimate how much you will spend, you can always transfer any “leftover money” to savings at the end of the month. Likewise, you can use it to take care of overages in any other category.
- Track your spending once per week: Your new spending plan might take some time to get used to, but it will be easier to adjust if you’re able to track your spending as the month progresses. For example, your new $600 monthly grocery allowance will be easier to swallow if you check your statements to see where you’re at at least once per week. Checking in frequently with each category will help you discover how much you have left to spend.
- Prepare for setbacks and adjustments: Your new zero-sum budget might go off without a hitch, or it might be a total nightmare. Either way, it’s important to know that you’ll likely need to adjust and readjust your spending for categories as the months progress. For example, you might think that a $500 food budget is entirely feasible, but find out that it is completely impractical in real life. When those things happen, make a note of it and change things up for the following month. Your zero-sum budget can evolve as you go: It should work as a tool to help you track your spending, but it shouldn’t be too restrictive.
Using a Zero-Sum Budget to Accomplish Your Goals
Zero-sum budgeting might be exactly what you need to get your finances under control once and for all. Why? Because it helps you identify problem areas, create limits you can live with, and make your money work for you. Even better, you don’t have to purchase anything to get started.
All you have to do is face your spending head-on and follow these simple steps to build your own zero-sum budget from scratch. It might not be easy, but you are sure to learn a lot about yourself and your own spending habits along the way.
Like it or not, a look in the mirror is sometimes necessary to make meaningful changes that last. In that sense, zero-sum budgeting will show you who you really are, flaws and all.