LEDs – all grown up at last, and saving energy

The history of the LED has admittedly been a somewhat patchy one. From complaints about the expense of the bulbs to the poor quality of the light, the early suspicion was that they perhaps wouldn’t ever have much widespread use beyond the original red lights that we are familiar with from indicator boards, early computer games and the like. However, there have since been many improvements to the quality of LED light bulbs, including not only a wider colour range, but also variations in the temperature – whether the light appears warm or cool. While they are still a little on the more expensive side, the cost of LED bulbs has also come down a long way since the early examples.

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Nine Debt-Forming Habits and How to Break Them

paper-pile-brendanc-600x400[1]The average American household with a credit card carries more than $15,000 in credit card debt, according to debt.org. Add to that $1.2 trillion (and growing) in student loan debt, sprinkle in car loans, a mortgage, personal loans, and medical debt, and we’ve got ourselves an issue.

How did we get here?

The reasons we’re in debt, of course, vary from person to person. But there are some habits and behaviors that can lead to debt or cause existing debt to grow instead of dissipate.

 Here are nine habits that might be adding more debt to your life, and suggestions for breaking those habits before they get worse:

1. You Rationalize Your Purchases

One common habit of people in debt is rationalizing the unnecessary purchases they make. And there are even several ways people can rationalize.

First, there’s the “Hey, I deserve this!” line we tell ourselves. We work hard for our money; we deserve a little treat, right? The answer is yes, but only if you can afford it. If you’re going into debt for an item, you shouldn’t be getting it. It’s simple.

There’s also the “I need this” or “I need to do this” theory. I have an important work function, and I need these new shoes to look my best. All my friends are going on this trip, so I need to go. I didn’t have a lot of toys when I was a kid, so I need to give that to my child.

How to break the habit: This habit can be tricky to break since you need to change your perspective. Instead of spending money to reward yourself for working or to feel good, find free or more affordable ways to give yourself that gratification.

Second, don’t make purchases right away. Before you buy something or plan a trip, really reflect on your current financial situation. Is this really a need? Or is it actually a want? Can I wait to buy this until I have the money for it instead of using credit?

2. You Assume You’ll Make More Money Later On

We assume we’ll get a better job, earn a promotion, or somehow be earning more money later on. Why do without now when we can simply pay off our debt later when we have more money?

A prime example of this habit is with student loan debt: The average student graduates with more than $40,000 in debt.

The unfortunate truth is, that great pay increase isn’t guaranteed, and may never come. Then you’re dealing with massive debt.

But even if it does come, you’ve been paying interest on these items. So while you may be charging a $20 dinner, a $100 jacket, or a $1,500 vacation, those items are actually costing you much more with interest.

How to break the habit: Don’t make assumptions. You can only work with the true reality of what you have in front of you. If you want to buy something, save for it until you can afford it. And think about it: Even if you do end up earning more money later, do you really want to have to spend it paying off old debts and racked-up interest?

3. You’re Disorganized With Your Bills

It’s easy to get disorganized with your bills. After all, there are a lot of them to keep track of, and they come at all different times of the month. You might get a portion of your statements online and a few in the mail. Some bills may get automatically deducted from your account, while others you pay yourself.

 Unfortunately, this inconsistency can create debt for a number of reasons. If you’re not monitoring your statements or keeping track of your bills, you may be spending more than you can afford. Plus, you may never know if there’s a mistake on your statement and you’ve been charged for something you didn’t purchase.

Also, late payments can cause your debt to increase with late fees, or, in some cases, cause your interest rate to go up.

How to break the habit: Find a system that helps you get organized and stay consistent with your bills. Set reminders on your calendar when bills are due each month, or set aside an hour each week to check your statements and schedule or send payments.

4. You’re in Denial and/or Not Dealing With Your Debt

An estimated 35% of Americans have debt in collections, according to a study by the Urban Institute. One obvious reason is that some people are simply unable to pay their debt. But there are also those who choose to ignore it.

Being in debt can feel like you’re drowning, leaving you completely overwhelmed. You may feel like you don’t even know where to begin; when you think about it, you grow anxious. It can be tempting to simply ignore the debt.

That’s a bad decision. The debt will do nothing but increase with interest. Plus, you’re going to cause harm to your credit report, which can make it difficult to get a mortgage, qualify for a loan, or even rent an apartment.

How to break the habit: While it may be hard at first, face your debt head on, since that’s the only way you’re going to deal with it. Understand what you owe, what the interest is, and form a plan of attack. If you’re unable to make payments, call your credit card companies or lenders to see what type of plan they can work out with you. If student loans are an issue, you may be able to explore an income-based repayment option or an economic hardship deferment that could temporarily help your situation.

5. You Don’t Budget or Keep Track of Your Money

A recent poll showed that only 32 percent of people actually have a budget. If you’re not budgeting, you may not realize how much you’re spending every month, or what you’re spending it on. Since we use credit cards for so many purchases, it can be quite easy to spend more than we earn, which is going to lead to debt.

How to break the habit: Create a budget by figuring out your income, then subtracting your set bills, such as rent, utilities, cell phone plan, and whatever else you spend every month. Now you can figure out what you have left to spend on food, entertainment, transportation, and other more flexible expenses.

The trick is to make it balance. You may need to cut your bills (e.g., cancel cable, turn down the thermostat, downgrade your cell phone plan), cut expenses (stick to sales and coupons at the grocery store, carpool to work, find free things to do for entertainment), or earn more money (take on extra shifts at work, get a part-time job, sell unwanted items) to strike a balance between what you earn and what you spend.

6. You’re an Impulse Spender

You see something, you want it, you buy it. Sound familiar? With the swipe of a credit card, a click of a mouse, and even now a tap of the phone, we get what we want. If you’re an impulse shopper, this could be a habit that is causing you debt.

How to break the habit: Create a new “one-week” rule. Take a photo of something you want to buy, and take time to think about whether or not it’s a good decision. Consider opting out of e-mails from your favorite stores and deal sites that could create temptation to buy. When grocery shopping, try planning your meals in advance based off what’s on sale and make a list. Stick to the list to avoid those impulse buys.

7. You’re Using Credit Cards the Wrong Way

Credit cards aren’t the reason you’re in debt. It’s how you’re using them. In reality, if used correctly, credit cards can be beneficial. If you’re able to pay off the balance each month and not accrue interest, they can help you build a solid credit score and improve your credit report. This can help you get a better rate on a mortgage or student loan in the future.

Plus, using credit cards in a smart way can earn you cash back or other types of rewards. And many cards offer fraud protection and other benefits, so they’re a safe and sensible way to spend when making big purchases you’d be making anyway.

However, a debt causing habit is using credit cards the wrong way. Almost a third of Americans report having more credit card debt than savings. If you’re using credit cards to fund a lifestyle you can’t afford, that is a bad habit.

How to break the habit: Reevaluate your relationship with credit cards. Tally up what you’re actually paying in interest every month, and use it as a motive to stop spending before it gets any farther out of hand. If you’re in credit card debt, stop charging and start working on paying that balance down.

8. You Don’t Think ‘the Worst’ Is Going to Happen

More than 28% of Americans have no money saved for emergencies, according to Bankrate.com. If something unexpected occurs and you don’t have an emergency fund or savings, you’ll most likely turn to credit cards for help.

No one wants to think something bad is going to happen, but the truth is, things go wrong. From a car breakdown to a job loss, bad stuff happens — stuff that would cause a lot less havoc in our lives if we had money set aside to help. If you’re turning to credit cards as a security blanket, interest charges will cause that debt to rise quickly.

The same is true for health issues. If you don’t have health insurance, you’re putting yourself at risk for the burden of medical debt, which is the single biggest cause of personal bankruptcies in America. Nearly half of low- and middle-income households have medical expenses on credit card debt, at an average amount of $1,678.

How to break the habit: Start saving a portion of your earnings every month for an emergency fund. Even if you’re only able to save a little each month, it’s better than nothing, and it will add up. Find ways to make extra money or cut expenses to add to the fund. Anything you have saved in an emergency fund is that much less debt you’ll need to take on should something happen.

If you don’t have health insurance, visit Healthcare.gov to explore affordable plans.

9. You’re Trying to Keep Up With Others

Our culture generally associates success and happiness with material things — like a big house and an abundance of money. If you don’t have these things, you may feel like you aren’t successful.

Unfortunately, people often feel pressure to “keep up with Joneses” and purchase items they can’t afford just to impress — or simply feel like they’re not being surpassed by — those around them. According to a Federal Reserve Board study, an astounding43% of families are spending more than they earn in America.

Buying things to maintain a certain image or lifestyle is unlikely to bring you fulfillment or happiness. In fact, if you can’t afford it, it’s more likely to cause you stress and anxiety as you fall deeper and deeper into debt.

You may not even be trying to impress anyone — maybe you simply don’t want to miss out. If you have friends that earn more money than you do, you may be tempted to go to the same restaurants or take the same pricey trips as they do. It doesn’t bother you, or them, that you make less money than they do — but you want to do what they do, because you enjoy their company.

How to break the habit: If you are in a social circle where people are judging you on your income and the price of items you are buying, it may be time to break away and find friends who aren’t concerned with your money. Understand that it’s not what you have, but it’s what you do and how you live your life that makes you a successful person.

If your friends are earning more money than you, and you feel pressure to spend what they’re spending, be honest. Let them know you can’t keep up with expensive dinners and pricey nights out. Suggest more affordable things you can do together instead.

 

This article is provided by Brothers Kitchen Blog

To what do you attribute your success — hard work or good fortune?

This article is by staff writer Kristin Wong.

Every now and then, I get an email from a fellow writer who’s just starting out and wondering where to begin. “How did you do it?” they ask. “How did you make freelance writing your career?”

It’s flattering, but what do I say? First of all, I’m still working to reach my own writing goals, so I’m not even sure I’d be the best person to ask. But also, any success that I may have had as a freelancer has at least a little to do with luck. True, it’s mostly hard work, but auspicious timing and lucky breaks have also helped my career along the way.

For example, when I started writing for MSN, it wasn’t because I worked hard to get their attention and relentlessly pursued their editors. It was also because I had an enormously talented and kind friend who landed a job there, and she happened to be hiring freelancers right as I decided to leave my job to become a freelance writer.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t have gotten that gig had I not worked hard. But it also helped that I knew someone whose department was hiring at the right time. As important a role as hard work plays in success, it’s also important to acknowledge good fortune. Here’s why.

Self-attribution bias

Disregarding the role of coincidence can make you believe a certain behavior is effective when it really isn’t — or worse, that behavior can actually work against you. Carl Richards of The Behavior Gap called it “lucky fool syndrome.”

“What sets off the lucky fool syndrome? Psychologists call it the self-attribution bias. It means we’re inclined to take all the credit for things going well, but we have no problem blaming outside forces when things go wrong. On top of our bias, we have a very difficult time separating skill from luck. As a result, we’re susceptible to the lucky fool syndrome and the problems that come with it.”

Investing is a perfect example. Richards cites a 2013 study, Self-Attribution Bias in Consumer Financial Decision-Making. In it, researchers studied the impact that investment returns had on how people perceived their own skills. When returns were good, subjects credited their awesome investing skills. When the market sucked, as it sometimes does, investors blamed it on bad luck.

This sounds harmless enough. What’s wrong with a little innocent self-delusion? The problem is, it can lead to costly mistakes.

Take my own example of self-attribution bias. When I decided to try my hand at active trading, I had huge returns within the first few months. I convinced myself I had a natural talent for it. (Embarrassingly, I believe I referred to myself as an investing genius, only in my head, of course.) I deluded myself into thinking that somehow I was able to accurately calculate the future, even though the most skilled and experienced investors can’t time the market.

So I repeated the “skills” I thought I possessed that helped me get those returns. The result? I lost $400 — more than half of my earnings. I should have cashed out when I got lucky. Instead, I learned the hard way that discounting the role of luck can come at a cost.

There is another problem with self-attribution bias. It limits our empathy and understanding. We think that, because one method or formula for success worked for us, that must be the magic formula for everyone. We think we have all the answers, so we stop considering any other possible problems or solutions. And sometimes we actually offer terrible insight. This article I wrote a year ago is like the case in point:

“I’ve found that it usually helps, when asking for something, to remind people that you’re human. When arguing for a raise, I reminded my boss that my financial situation was suffering due to inflation…”

I cringe reading my own words. Readers totally called me out on this, and rightfully so. This is the exact opposite of what most experts agree you should do. But because it happened to work for me, I figured, without giving it much additional thought, that it would work for everyone. Sure, my own good diligence helped me nab that raise, but I think it’s a good example of how self-attribution bias can limit your understanding.

Maybe it’s a balancing act

None of this is to say that hard work isn’t absolutely necessary. With most things, if you want to succeed, it takes a great deal of effort. Take my mom’s savings story. Despite being poor, she did whatever she could, sacrificing quite a bit just to save a few bucks a week. That’s the hard work.

But she acknowledges a few things out of her control actually worked in her favor: interest rates, overtime availability, and a part-time job opening. She told me:

“Not everyone sees overtime as lucky. Everybody gets lucky breaks, but it depends on you seeing it as a lucky break.”

Maybe the key to success is taking advantage of both — seizing those lucky breaks by being willing to do the work when they happen. Maybe it’s about recognizing the opportunities and taking advantage of them in the right way. Most of us aren’t lucky enough to make it on our good fortune alone. In fact, without effort, any luck that does come your way could easily be squandered. For example, if you are an over-spender, you might blow through a windfall. But if you’ve been working hard to get control of your finances, you may be more inclined to use that windfall to reach your financial goals.

Luck alone probably won’t get us far. But it seems that recognizing it can work in our favor. It helps us take advantage of those auspicious opportunities and, plus, it gives us a better understanding of our skills and exactly how our hard work pays off. It seems to me that understanding this balance is a little more realistic anyway.

Do you attribute your success to hard work or good fortune? Have you seen self-attribution bias backfire before? Have you changed how you view working hard versus being lucky?

How to Declutter Your Home in a Weekend Without Spending a Dime

declutter-weekend-distelfliege[1]When your home is a cluttered wreck, it can be hard to summon the motivation to tackle the chores you’ve been putting off and to toss or organize your scattered possessions. To make matters worse, you’re crunched for time and it’s tough to get anything done around the house, no matter how hard you try.

I never seem to have enough time, so I completely understand your frustration. But sooner or later — maybe after you trip on an errant toy or lose an important file — you’ll hit your breaking point. When you’ve had enough, it’s time to do something about it.

A possible solution: Find a sitter, cancel your plans for the weekend, and get to work. I gave it a shot and I was rather pleased with the results. Here are some tips to help you clear the haze.

1. Work Strategically

If you finally muster up the courage to get your home in order, avoid stepping foot into the front door and tackling the first project you can get your hands on. This is a recipe for disaster, and you’ll be tempted to throw in the towel shortly after you’ve started.

Instead, take a moment to map out a plan of action. Here’s a sample schedule for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home:

  • Friday evening: living room, kitchen, hall closet (if applicable)
  • Saturday: bedrooms No. 1 and No. 2 (including closets), guest bathroom
  • Sunday: master bedroom (including closet), master bathroom

Once you’ve figured out which areas of the house you plan to work on each day, take things a step further by including actual objectives, or detailed notes of what needs to be done in each area and how you will accomplish the particular tasks. For example, if you plan to start in the kitchen, your list may look like this:

  • Discard expired items from the pantry and neatly organize what remains on the shelves
  • Empty out the kitchen cabinets and only place the items of value back inside
  • Clear off the countertops
  • Sanitize the appliances (interior and exterior) and other surfaces in the kitchen
  • Mop and shine the floors

2. Purge Away

I hate to break it to you, but unless you have a magical, infinite attic, you’ll need to throw some things away to get rid of the clutter inside your home — even some things that are near and dear to your heart. It’s hard to do, even with items that have no sentimental value — no one wants to discard something they spent hard-earned money on.

But you have gather yourself (and your emotions) to give the situation some thought. How serious are you about tidying things up, and how did your home get this way in the first place? The answer might be rather simple: There are too many items and not enough space.

At least, that was my problem. I used to commit several hours a week to cleaning, only to encounter mess after mess a few days later. And then it hit me: The execution of chores wasn’t the problem, the clutter was.

Fed up with the constant messes in the home no matter how often we cleaned, we decided to embark on a “purging journey” and it was more difficult than we initially envisioned. While I’m definitely not a hoarder, I found myself getting agitated over the volume of items we needed to purge to clear up space.

Quite frankly, I’d forgotten for quite some time that they even existed, but I wasn’t ready to part ways with them. And for some strange reason, I feared I would suddenly find a need for them shortly after they were gone. Nevertheless, I stayed on pace and even sold a few things to ease the separation anxiety.

Wondering how to determine which items you should part ways with? Ask yourself these questions to make the call:

  • Have you used the item in the past year?
  • If so, will you have a need for it in the near future?
  • If not, will you ever use it?
  • Does it possess some sort of sentimental value?
  • Will you lose sleep at night once it’s gone?

If the answer is no, toss it, sell it, or donate it. If you purge enough stuff, you can hold a yard sale the following weekend. The extra cash will ease the sting of tossing so much stuff.

3. Neatly Organize Everything Else

Done purging? Now it’s time for the (not-so) fun part: organizing what remains. But this time around, you won’t be spending loads of cash on plastic storage containers and stylish space maker tools. Instead, you’ll be working with what you already have lying around the house. Here are a few options:

Baskets

After years of spending countless hours searching for important items, such as keys cell phones and wallets, that seemed to vanish into a dark hole each night, I’d had enough. The only solution was labeled baskets, which we still find quite useful. They also make great organizers for toiletries under bathroom cabinets; I know I’m not the only one who’s spent more than a couple of seconds searching for a particular fragrance, shampoo, or lotion.

Drawer Dividers

These are perfect for those drawers full of miscellaneous items or kitchen utensils. If you don’t have any dividers on hand, you can easily make your own using pieces of a cardboard box.

Shoeboxes

Planning to store some items on the closet shelves? Shoeboxes, both cardboard and plastic, work like a charm, especially for accessories if you don’t have a jewelry box on hand. I also use them for arts and crafts supplies that my children use throughout the week for school projects and homework.

Bookshelves

I’m an avid reader, so the bookshelf in the office definitely serves its purpose. But I also use it to store my children’s electronics and trophies that won’t fit into their bedroom. And occasionally, a few of my project files find their way on the middle shelf for easier access.

New Stash

Unfortunately, there may be a few (or many) useful items that remain with nowhere to go. Instead of spending time agonizing over their final resting place, find an empty, discrete area to store them until a later date.

4. Don’t Forget the Chores

After all the rearranging and foot traffic throughout the home, some tidying up will be necessary (or you could do it as you complete each room).

In my home, the living room floor is usually the first area to suffer because of all the foot traffic it gets each day. And it doesn’t help that we spend a bulk of our time as a family in the space. To properly clean the wood, I use a special solution that leaves the floor shining and looking brand new. But if I only clean the floor and ignore the other messes, something definitely looks a little off.

So, I always make sure to place the children’s toys (and whatever else they’ve managed to bring into the living room) back where they belong, dust the television stand, clean the baseboards, and vacuum the furniture padding to give the space a finished look.

And I can’t forget about my children’s bedroom. They enjoy spending time together playing with their toys, which makes mommy happy, so I try my best to keep up the space as best as I can. But there have been several occasions where I spent hours cleaning, organizing, and purging excess items, only to end up burying my face in my hand shortly afterward.

You see, my children get a kick out of making huge messes. For starters, they take all of the toy bins, neatly aligned against the bedroom and closet wall, and dump them out. Then they proceed to empty out the drawers underneath the bed, and finish up by digging through their dresser like madmen in search of last year’s Halloween costumes so they can pretend to be superheroes. And all of this is clearly audible from my bedroom.

What’s even funnier is that when I ask them to clean up their mess, it becomes clear that our perspectives on cleaning vary drastically. They think shoving everything that’s out of place into the closet and forcing the door shut is a job well done, but I beg to differ. I guess it’s the effort that counts; after all, they’re only 7 and 3 years old. So, imagine what would happen if I used their system for organizing things to keep the room intact!

5. Recruit Family and Friends

Do you have supportive friends or family nearby? Call them up, mention your plans, and ask if they’d be willing to assist. Even if it’s in the form of entertaining the kids for a few hours, which you’ll need if you have little ones, a little help can go a long way.

Since I have a slight obsession with keeping things organized around the house (when time permits), it’s not unusual for a family member or friend to give me a call and request input on how they should arrange things in their home. And in some cases, they throw in the towel and request that I come over, take a look, and help them get started. Either way, they accomplish the task at hand more quickly and are always willing to lend a helping hand in return if I need assistance.

Another tip: If a group of you will be hard at work for an entire day or weekend, why not add a little fun to the mix by blasting your favorite tunes and ordering pizza and drinks to complete the party?

6. Consistency is Key

Have you finally crossed off all the items on your to-do list? Take a second to pat yourself on the back, and then think of all the ways you can keep things organized moving forward. You now have a clean slate to start from, and you want to keep it that way. Here are a few tips:

Offer Yourself Incentives

On occasion, we all need a little push to get us motivated to complete a task. Clearing clutter shouldn’t be an exception to the rule. Anytime I’m in need of a little pick-me-up to get moving, I resort to edible incentives, such as a night out for dinner at my favorite restaurant, as a source of motivation.

Revisit Problematic Areas at Least Once Per Week

Some areas are more prone to getting cluttered than others. In my home, the office is a problem; with projects come paper, most of which ends up in the strangest places after a few weeks have passed. Keep on top of these problem areas so they don’t become insurmountable.

Minimize Paper Documents

To prevent the problem mentioned above, I try to work with electronic documents or spiral notebooks as often as possible. Mail also has the potential to be problematic in our household, so I promptly shred any items we don’t need.

Another issue: documents from school. Between both children, the correspondence quickly begins to add up and get lost in a pile if we don’t make note of what is being communicated as soon as the documents arrive.

Stop Shopping!

If you don’t need it, don’t buy it (at least until you learn to keep the messes to a minimum). And if you think you need it, take a moment to assess its functionality and whether it will best suit your needs.

During the period in my life where I was extremely irresponsible with my finances, any item in a store that tickled my fancy came home, whether I purchased it with cash or credit. At the time, I was living in an extremely tiny apartment with limited closet space, so the more I purchased, the more crowded things were. At one point, there were piles of clothes with tags on the closet floor because I had nowhere else for them to go. Long story short, I didn’t necessarily need any of these things, and what a headache it was to clear the clutter once I finally realized I had let my spending habits get out of control.

Routine Purging Sessions

As time progresses and you notice some items are still kicking around even though they no longer serve a purpose, sell, donate, recycle, or dispose of them promptly. This should be done on a monthly basis to prevent clutter from resurfacing.

Instead of doing it in a single day, I allocate one day per room. When I consistently follow that pattern, the purging sessions usually don’t take more than 30 minutes, and I feel a lot better knowing that I was able to be proactive by keeping the home clean.

And remember, a few problematic areas may still exist after your weekend cleaning session. But you took initiative to get a handle on the problem and reclaim your home, and that’s what counts.