How to Find Your Dream Job and Life

I want you to think about something for a minute — What would you be doing for a living if you could do exactly what you wanted to do? Do you have something in mind? Good, that’s terrific. Now I want you to ask yourself a few questions — Why aren’t you doing it? What’s holding you back? What’s limiting your potential to doing what you are currently doing versus what you want to be doing? Is it credit card debt? Your children? Your health?

Sure, those are all worthwhile reasons to put your true dreams and desires on hold for a bit, but in order to make them eventually happen you need to be working towards them at all times, even when the chips are down. Your current situation may be limiting your choices, but it certainly doesn’t take up all your time and effort — which means you have time to work on achieving your goals and finding your ideal lifestyle and work. Right? Right.

It’s way too easy to say “I would do that if…” or “I will do that when…” when working on life goals. We all do it! Some more than others, but most of us have found excuses throughout our lives to put off to another day what we could have done today. The problem with doing it too much is that we end up pushing everything off to the future and never accomplishing any goals whatsoever! Almost every day I run into someone who hates their job and would rather be an artist, a writer, an architect, a doctor, or anything other than what they currently are. Nothing other than their daily complaints is stopping any of them from pursuing their dreams — they are taking the easy path of complaining and avoiding the more difficult task of making something happen for themselves. This is how so many end up in dead-end jobs for 40-50 years, just waiting for the day they can retire at 67 years old. Why put your dreams off until then? Why not work towards making them happen today?

Over four years ago I quit a job I hated after suffering in it for years. The money was great but I was completely unsatisfied and miserable, which made my home life and leisure time miserable as well. I didn’t have a plan, which in hindsight was pretty dumb, but I just couldn’t take it anymore — I up and quit one day. With no plan in place and no clear idea of what I wanted to do, I just started doing what came naturally to me. I got back into coding websites and really dedicated myself to writing for fun again on my blogs. And guess what? It paid off! I got a few web clients and the popularity of my blogs took off, providing a stable (if way less valuable) income which I could live off of. Whether I got lucky or not, my situation forced me into a new way of working and living, one that I had always wanted. And while I don’t recommend jumping ship without either a lot of money saved or some careful planning, I do think that everyone has their dream or ideal job that they want to do and should work towards getting to it rather than staying in a job they hate just because it’s easy or what others think is the right thing to do.

So if you have to stay in a situation you don’t care for due to this or that but know you want to get out and do your ideal work, how can you go about working towards that? I did a little brainstorming and came up with a list of things you can do today, even while in the job you hate, to get you closer to making your lifestyle and work dreams a reality. Let’s take a look…

  • Spend some time reading all the employment books at the bookstore. You don’t need to buy them all, just spend the day reading through all the titles like What’s Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job or Get The Job You Want, Even When No One’s Hiring: Take Charge of Your Career, Find a Job You Love, and Earn What You Deserve.
  • Start volunteering on weekends in your ideal field. If your chosen path is not corporate in nature and stuck on the Monday – Friday wheel, you may be able to volunteer on your days off. Everyone always loves free labor.
  • Sign up for newsletters, get on email lists, send notes to anyone you know in a field even remotely related to what you are interested in. Have no shame in asking for advice or assistance; this is your future you are talking about!
  • Work at, practice, and take lessons for your dream if necessary. Any investment in your happiness is a worthwhile investment.
  • Love writing? Lucky you, you already have the equipment you need to get back to doing it. No one is stopping you but you.
  • Don’t make your job/career/work your entire life. Keep some interests outside of work, lest your ideal becomes monotony and another job you hate.
  • Write yourself a letter about what you want for your future. Ask yourself in the letter how you can get to that place.
  • Make a list of what you truly enjoy doing in your spare time. Can you somehow turn that into something that can pay your rent?
  • Make time for yourself to really think about what you wish your work life to be like. Don’t have enough time? If you’re like most people you watch TV every night. This week, leave it off and spend the time doing something proactive.

Keep in mind that while there are many excuses why not to get started finding your ideal work/passion in life, there are also many ways to make something happen for yourself. If your current situation doesn’t allow you to up and quit or make a big change right now, there is no reason you can’t start working towards what you want in your spare time. If you can up and quit and are prepared to live out your dreams, what are you waiting for? The worst you can do is fail! You won’t die and no one will get hurt. If you fail, you can try again.

As I have said many, many times, we all only go around once here on Earth — why spend the majority of that time doing something you don’t even enjoy and/or have passion for. Go out and get what you want, detractors and naysayers be damned. It’s your life and you deserve to live it doing what you want.

Make it happen.

Have any tips for those looking for their ideal situation? Have a success story to share? Please let us know in the comments!

(photo credit: smemon87)


17 Easy Ways to Save Energy at Home This Summer

Are you ready for summer yet? While the temperature here in New Mexico is still in the “I can’t decide if it’s summer or winter” mode with 80 degree days and 25 degree nights, we all know that sooner rather than later summer will be here, accompanied by heat, humidity, and bugs! Just when you start learning to cope with snow, ice, and below 0 days, everything changes and now you’re sweating those upcoming summertime utility bills. Depending on where you live, the size of your home, and how much utility costs are in your area, summer can often bring the highest monthly bills of the year. The good news, however, is that it’s only May and you have time to prepare for those hot summer days and high electric bills, so here are some easy to implement tips to both keep cool at home and save a little money at the same time. Let’s get started!

  • Install programmable thermostats in your home (in each zone, if you have several) rather than just ON/OFF switches. Setting a temperature saves a ton of money because the AC doesn’t just run constantly, but rather only when needed.
  • If you don’t have central air conditioning and instead just have window units, put each one of them on a timer. You can set the cycle to turn the units on and off throughout the day rather than just leave them running.
  • Put ceiling fans in the rooms where you spend the most time. And once they are installed, make sure the blades are spinning in the right direction! In the summer they should be rotating counter clockwise, pushing air towards you downward.
  • While this tip is good all year for saving on energy costs alone, it can also save on your cooling bill. Replace those old fashioned incandescent light bulbs with either CFL or LED bulbs, as they emit far less heat than incandescents.
  • Insulate, insulate, insulate. If your attic isn’t insulated correctly, guess where all that cold air you are paying to pump into your home is going? Yep, right out through the attic rafters into the hot outdoors — wasting a ton of money in the process.
  • Speaking of attics, make sure you have an attic fan. And if you have one, make sure it works! Attic fans draw hot air out of the attic, helping to reduce cooling costs inside your house.
  • Lower your shades and close your curtains, and not just because you’re modest. Blocking the sun from coming in and heating up your space can go a long way towards keeping your space cool.
  • Seal windows and doors efficiently to keep the cold air inside and the hot air outside Weatherstripping costs just a few bucks but goes a long way to keeping the heat out and the cool in.

air conditioning unit

  • Have your central AC unit serviced and cleaned prior to the hot summer months. HVAC professionals are busy during the first part of summer, so get that taken care of now so your system runs efficiently.
  • Consider using regular old tabletop fans aimed at yourself in one room rather than run your central AC 24/7.
  • Sleep naked!
  • Raise the temp of your thermostat by a degree or 2. You won’t feel the difference but your wallet most certainly will.
  • If no one is home all day long, why keep the house ice cold? Turn the temperature up on your thermostat during the day, and program it to bring the temperature back down an hour before you arrive home.
  • Close any central air registers in empty and/or unused rooms. If you use a room in your house as a closet, why air condition it all summer long?
  • Get outdoors and plant shade trees around your home. Sure, it wont help you much this year but it will down the road when energy bills are bound to be higher.
  • Open a few windows upstairs to draw the hot air up and out of the house.
  • Run any hot, energy-intensive appliances sparingly. Instead, consider using the microwave for quick heat-ups rather than turning on the stove or oven.

Well, now you have no excuse for not implementing at least a few tips for saving money on your utility bills this summer in an effort to keep cool. Do you have any tips to add to the list? Be sure to let us know in the comment section below!


How an Excellent Credit Score Can Save You Thousands

As I have mentioned several times lately, I just moved back to New Mexico from California. My rent and the majority of my expenses are a fraction of what they were prior to my move back here, but there is one expense that just went up — I needed a new vehicle. See, New Mexico is the land of dirt roads, arroyos, beaten paths, and trailblazing; it is not the land of nicely paved roads. Sure, the highways are fine, but around any town or city the roads are barely paved and often just rutted dirt paths. A MINI Cooper S, the car I had in California, doesn’t cut it here because it is so low to the ground that there are places in town that I couldn’t go to. Thus it had to go for that reason and one other, which is my plan to hit the road later this year with a camper being pulled behind my car. The MINI wouldn’t pull a camper too well, I am afraid. So what did I have to do to meet my requirements for where I currently live and where I plan on going?

I bought a truck.

And not just any old truck but rather a brand new one, something I said I would never do again. But last week I drove home a 2011 Toyota Tacoma V6 4X4 Access Cab pickup truck for $4,000 under sticker on the last day of the month and the quarter at the Toyota dealership. It was truly a great deal on the truck I ended up with. When I first started shopping for one I was looking at exclusively used 2 year old Tacomas, but they hold their value so well that they were literally only $1000 less than what I could get a brand new one for — if not exactly the same price. It made no sense whatsoever to buy used at that point.

So I priced out a truck that I wanted on the website, contacted my local dealer’s direct sales/internet department (ALWAYS deal with those guys, don’t ever walk into the main showroom without a contact), went for a test drive, and sealed the deal. They even gave me KBB value for my MINI, which saved me from having to sell it on my own. All said and done, it was the least painful car trade-in/buying experience ever. But that’s not the main reason I put together this post…

Instead, I wanted to talk about credit scores.

My credit score is a solid 800 give or take a few points depending on which agency reports it. Some of you may remember that back in September I mentioned how having a high credit score enabled me to quickly land the house rental I wanted without too much fanfare. Well, the same thing happened when I went to finance the balance I would owe on the truck, as when the finance guy asked me if I knew what my credit score was and I said “around 800” he told me I wouldn’t have any problem at all getting the absolute best terms. I was curious if I would be able to do so, as being self-employed is sometimes a red flag for lenders because you don’t have a steady weekly or monthly paycheck to prove your income; rather you have to show your last tax return or two in order to maybe qualify for a loan. For example I know that a mortgage would be incredibly difficult for me to get right now! However for my car loan they glanced at my 2010 tax return and my credit score and instantly offered me a great rate. I couldn’t be happier with what I ended up with, as the rate was exactly the same as what my credit union is currently offering. But what if my income had been the same but my credit score was terrible?

I could have ended up paying 18.9% interest on my car loan instead of the < 4% I am paying now.

That’s right — for those customers with a credit score of less than 580 the interest rate is 18.9%! And sure enough, when I asked the finance guy if there were truly people buying cars and paying 18.9% interest, he responded with a resounding “Yep!”. He said most people fall somewhere between and end up paying around 7 or 8% here in New Mexico, but that plenty of customers pay ridiculous interest rates because their credit scores are absolutely terrible. This is how much influence your credit score can have on your purchasing power — the lower your score means the more you pay for the exact same product that I am paying less for because of my high credit score. So before you even think about making any big purchases, make sure you get your credit score up as high as you can. It makes absolutely no sense to pay such high interest rates on big-ticket purchases like cars if you can help it; and believe me, you can help it.

Back in January I wrote an article titled How to Build Credit History – 9 Ways to Improve & Build Good Credit Fast which offers tips on building credit and improving your credit score. Months before you head out to the dealership or mortgage lender, do yourself a favor and start working on improving your credit. It could save you thousands and thousands of dollars!

And for those of you wondering — Yes, I plan on paying off the truck balance within the next year. Good thing my expenses are so low to allow me to do so quite easily!


How Long Do I Keep Tax Records – Beware an Audit Letter From the IRS

Well, it finally happened — I unexpectedly received a rather large envelope stuffed full of paperwork from the IRS. My heart sank as I figured I would be dealing with an audit or something like that. When I opened the envelope the first thing I saw was that I supposedly owed taxes on unreported income from 2009, so I imagined days of digging through old paperwork, jumping through hoops, and redoing mathematical equations on two year old tax information. In the very month that both my taxes and my self-employment estimated payments are due, I would now also be dealing with an audit from the IRS. Yikes! After calming down and reading through everything that they sent, I started to understand that it wasn’t really a full-blown audit or anything that would be too painful to rectify. Rather, it would require a little research through my 2009 paperwork to find information on a 1099 form that the IRS said I they received but that I hadn’t reported. I know I don’t miss any 1099 forms, so I wasn’t too worried.

Thankfully I have saved every tax return (and their corresponding forms) for the last 10 years. The majority of all of these are scanned and backed up digital copies in PDF form, because if I had to keep the paper versions of everything I would require the world’s biggest filing cabinet. For 2009 however I still have all the original copies, so I pulled out the folder for that year and went looking for the 1099 form I supposedly didn’t mention on my tax return that year. Sure enough, there it was right there with all the other ones (Ah, the joys of self-employment!) along with it being listed on my income sheet for that year. I added up all my income for the year and came up with the same number I used on my return, but upon looking at the final income figures the IRS thought I should have they were claiming that I didn’t report $4,000 in income. How could this possibly be?

When I file my taxes, I add up all the 1099s from various employers and use that total as my income on my tax return. I don’t break it down by 25 different employer sheets, which would just complicate things. That being said, I now see the benefit of attaching a sheet with all the income broken out by employer. Because in this case, one of the employers made a mistake on my 1099 form from them, which caused my return to be kicked out of the IRS system for a second look. Normally, as a freelance 1099 “employee”, employers put what you were paid for the year in Box 7, the “Nonemployee Compensation” box on the 1099 form. But this employer put my income in Box 3 for “Other Income”, which screwed up my entire return. Because that income was placed in a different box, the IRS computers didn’t count it in my regular income but rather in “other”, which I obviously didn’t report because it didn’t exist!

After crafting a response to their inquiry and making copies of the document in question, I will be sending all of this back to the IRS and hopefully putting it all to rest. While receiving a letter from the IRS can seem scary at first, it’s important to note that 78% of audits are done by mail and don’t require the dreaded face-to-face meeting with an IRS agent sitting at your dining room table looking through all your paperwork. Don’t get me wrong — when I first got that letter I panicked! But once I had a chance to read through the information and figure out what was wrong, I calmed right down and worked it out. When you don’t try to get away with not paying taxes, you don’t really have much to worry about.

The important lesson to learn here is to ALWAYS keep copies of your tax returns and related documents for at least 7 years as you never know when they could be needed. Thankfully I learned that lesson years ago so I had everything necessary to take care of the IRS’ concerns.

Do you have backups of all of your returns and documents? If not, start saving them this year and every year after!

(photo credit: John-Morgan)


Free iPhone & Android Apps to Save on Airfare, Hotels & Car Rentals

Everyone likes to travel, right? Judging by how much of the year I am on the road and how full the airports are, people are always looking to jet off somewhere for a little R&R. However, travel costs a lot of money right now because of the economy and how expensive gasoline is, so we all need to find some different ways to try to save money on flights, hotels, and car rentals, right? A few weeks ago I put together a list of the 10 Best Free iPhone Travel Apps which focused on travel, weather, nightlife, etc., so I figured a good companion piece would be a post concentrating solely on iPhone and Android apps which can help you save some money on travel. Let’s take a look at what I found for each platform, shall we? All the apps I have listed are free and the links go directly to either the iTunes or Android app store.

For the iPhone from iTunes:

  1. Kayak: Compares travel sites to find car, hotel, and car rental deals. Allows users to book travel, track flight status, and get baggage fee schedules for different airlines. Seems to be the Big Daddy of travel apps.
  2. BookMe Travel Search: Easily search travel sites for flights, hotels, car rentals, and deals on cruises. Haven’t used this one, but it’s the only one that I saw which includes cruises.
  3. Orbitz Flights, Hotels, Cars: Users can book hotels, flights, car rentals, check their flight status, search for (and read reviews of) hotels using their phone’s GPS system. Plus, they have a price guarantee on travel booked, which is pretty sweet.
  4. Booking.com: Search for and book reservations at over 150,000 hotels around the world. Read guest reviews, see hotel photos, and plot hotel locations on a map. For international travelers this could be really helpful.
  5. Travelocity: Use the Gnome to find and book travel and car/hotel rentals. Also includes city guides and the ability to check gas prices around you. I personally find the Gnome a little annoying but it’s a clever marketing gimmick.
  6. iFindHotels: Combines hotel results from over 30 different travel websites to help users find the best rate for a room. Sort results by price, location, popularity, and user ratings.
  7. Hipmunk Flight Search: Instead of the standard flight search app, Hipmunk searches for something called “agony” of each flight, incorporating things like how long layovers are and how many legs it will take to get to your destination. Kind of a brilliant idea, really. I hate flying but I hate layovers/delays even more.
  8. TripAssist by Expedia: Shop and book travel from your phone, get real-time SMS updates to your itineraries, access SeatGuru to find the best seats on your flights. Expedia is an ever-popular choice for travel needs.
  9. Travel Deals & Coupons: Get coupon codes, promo codes, and special deals updated daily from Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, etc.
  10. Priceline: You’ve seen the ads, now get help with your travel plans from William Shatner by naming your own price on hotel stays and car rentals. Shatner alone makes me check out this site when I need to rent a car.

For Android phones from the Android Market:

  1. Kayak: The ultimate travel assistant helps you find flight, hotel and car rental deals, book travel, track flight status, etc.
  2. Orbitz: Book flights, hotels & cars; view your trips; check flight status and find nearby hotels using your phone’s GPS. And don’t forget the price guarantee on booked travel.
  3. Booking.com: Search over 105,000 hotels worldwide, find nearby hotels and book directly from your Android phone.
  4. TripAdvisor: Search for hotels, restaurants, and flights while accessing real traveler reviews, opinions, photos, and maps. I love TripAdvisor for the hotel reviews, as they have steered me into better choices several times now.
  5. Priceline Negotiator: Stuck without a place to stay at the last minute? Pick the exact neighborhood and star level you want and save up to half-off when you bid for a hotel. William Shatner once again for the win.
  6. HotelsByMe: Allows users to find and book hotels worldwide from their phone. Searches return real-time availability and rates from over 100,000 hotels.
  7. BookMe Travel Search: App allows you to easily search the best travel sites for flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises and vacations in every country in the world. Search Expedia, Orbitz, Kayak, Priceline, Travelocity and more. Seems to be an aggregator of all the major travel websites.
  8. OnTheFly: Offers an advanced way to shop for airfares for any itinerary in the world. Easily find the best fares and flights available for your trip. Seems almost corporate in nature, but could be useful for some travelers.

Do you have a favorite travel and/or money-saving app that you use on your iPhone or your Android phone? I am only personally familiar with the iPhone and I had to do a ton of searches in the Android marketplace, so if you are an Android user and have any suggestions we would love to hear about them in the comments!

(photo credit: boklm)

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