Helping Good Neighbors – 10 Communal Items to Share and Save Money

We all know times are tight right now, with so many unemployed and tons more losing their houses to foreclosure. It’s a really sad situation and one that we all hope turns around relatively soon. In the meantime, however, we all still need to keep on living — and that means that we often need to spend money on things for our family or our homes in order to keep everything in order. But these expenses can add up quickly, especially for repairs if you are a homeowner and need to pay for everything yourself (those expensive repairs are when I am thankful I am a renter!), so careful planning and discussion amongst friends prior to making big purchases can really help out your bottom line.

When I was growing up some of my neighbors shared a high-end lawnmower and an expensive snow-blower between them, which cut their initial investment and any recurring costs of ownership right in half. I thought it was odd at the time as a kid but I totally understand why they would have done it now. Do you have good neighbors you truly like and trust? Maybe you can start sharing certain things with them (and vice-versa) in order to reduce your overhead. Here are 10 popular things that you could easily share with your neighbors, saving everyone a little bit of much-needed cash in the process. Let’s take a look…

1. Tools. We all need to use tools, whether we are renters or homeowners. I happen to own a lot of tools and have never owned property in my life. By opening up our workbenches to neighbors, we can share those little-used tools instead of buying something we’ll only need once.

2. Lawn/Party Furniture. Do you throw a lot of parties in your backyard? Does your neighborhood have annual picnics? Why not have several households pitch in for some nice lawn furniture that everyone can use when they need it?

3. Large Lawn/Snow Equipment. As I mentioned above, my neighbors growing up shared these things. They are expensive and need repairs once in a while; why not share the burden?

4. Gardening Equipment. Shovels, hoes, rototillers, rakes — why does every house on the block need their own when sharing makes much more sense?

5. Automotive Repair Equipment. If you change your own oil, you have drip pans, dropclothes, and something to collect the used oil in. (I hope!) Well, since you only use these things every 3,000 miles or so, why not share with a buddy in the neighborhood?

6. Sporting Goods. Kids try all sorts of sports before they decide which one they are going to stick with. So why not share a soccer goal, a tee-ball tee, or some lawn games like bocce ball amongst friends?

7. Baby Clothes. Your children will grow out of their clothes almost as soon as you put them on them, so trading and/or buying used makes way more sense than paying top dollar for new stuff. You give your clothes to someone with younger kids and you get some more from someone else with older kids. It’s a win for everyone!

8. Magazine and/or Newspaper Subscriptions. Back in 2009 I started a magazine swap with some neighbors and it was a big success. Why not try the same with yours?

9. Trade One Talent For Another. Can your neighbor weld and you need a welder? Can you fix a toilet but your neighbor is clueless when it comes to plumbing issues? Why not trade talents?

10. Share Trash Pickup. I pay $35 for a truck to pick up at most 2 small bags of trash from my house every month. That’s the same amount that my neighbor pays to have the same truck pick up their bags and bags and bags each and every week. Morally right or wrong, why should I pay the same amount as they do when I have only a fraction of the trash? Why not find a like-minded neighbor and split the cost with one of you canceling service?

Do you share with your neighbors already? What are you sharing that I didn’t put onto the list? I know there are services like NeighborGoods which encourages sharing among people who live in your zip code, but sharing multiple items with the guy or gal across the street can probably save you even more money than that service ever could. What are you waiting for? Start sharing goods and save yourself some money!

(photo credit: lauren keith)


How to Prevent Bicycle Theft and Find Stolen Bikes

A good friend of mine had his bike stolen last week. His VERY EXPENSIVE bike at that. It was “locked” up right in front of a restaurant he was eating at, and he never thought for a second that he would come out after finishing his meal to find it simply not there anymore. It was one long pissed-off walk home that day, that’s for sure. Bike theft is pretty common because, well, it’s rather easy to steal a bike, ride away on it, and then sell it for a few bucks. Most people buy cheap locks (or none at all) and some have even had their two-wheeled transportation stolen from their own yard. Because of my buddy’s predicament last week, I figured there were others out there who could use some advice on how to prevent their own bike from being stolen, and this is what I found out. Hope it helps!

1. Always lock up your bike. Always. Even if you are only running into the store for 30 seconds, lock up your bike. I know someone who had their car stolen when they jumped out to drop off some mail at the post office, so if that can happen then your bike can disappear even faster.

2. Don’t ever lock your bike to itself. If it’s just sitting there loose, a thief can still easily pick the whole thing up and walk off.

3. Only lock your bike to objects that cannot be moved, shimmied, or taken apart. A 30 foot light pole or a dedicated bike rack will do; a twiggy tree or a political lawn sign most certainly will not.

4. If out at night, lock up in a well-lit area, preferably with other bikes.

5. Use a combination of two different kinds of locks. A solid U-lock combined with a chain lock of some kind should encourage any potential thieves to move on to the next bike down the line.

6. Have a quick-release front wheel? Remove it and put it next to the rear wheel, running a lock through the frame and both wheels.

7. Leave as little space as possible between your lock(s) and your bike’s frame.

8. Register your bike before it’s stolen with The National Bike Registry and maybe you can get it back. Maybe.

9. Take your seat with you if it’s quick-release. Riding a bike home without a seat cannot be pleasurable of an experience.

10. Take your whole bike in to stores/restaurants with you. OK, not every place will allow this, but another friend of mine always asks rather than just immediately locking up his bike outside. Most of the time, management says ok to his request.

Do you use your bike a lot to get around? Do you always lock it up? If you have some tips for other bike owners who may be reading this post, please be sure to leave them in the comments. We can all use any help we can get in order to secure our bikes when we are out and about so ours don’t get stolen too!

(photo credit: haraldwalker)


State Sales Tax Holiday 2011 – AL, CT, LA, MD, NC, TX, VA

Have some larger than average expenses coming up this year? Plan on buying some new appliances, computers, or worse yet an entire new wardrobe for your rapidly growing teenager? Don’t fret, I might be able to save you some cash. Before you head out to the mall or your nearest big-box store you may want to take a look at when (if) your state holds its annual “Sales Tax Holiday” in 2011 to save yourself a few bucks. Statewide sales tax holidays were first enacted in 1996 as a way to as give consumers a good incentive to shop at their local businesses. While most states normally restrict exemptions only up to a certain amount (say, $300), shoppers can actually buy an unlimited amount of these items free of taxes for the days that the holiday is in place.

Something to keep in mind, though — as with any internet shopping, residents of other states who purchase goods in places other than their state of record may be required to pay local taxes on their purchases. I’m not saying anyone does it, but it’s just something to think about come tax time.

Every year, the Federation of Tax Administrators publishes this tax holiday list, and this year’s list is available now for your perusal. Let’s check out a few states, along with their dates and what items qualify to be tax free those days.

Alabama – Clothing up to $100, computers up to $750, school supplies up to $50, and books to $30 are exempt from sales taxes on August 5-7, 2011

Connecticut – Clothing and footwear up to $300 is exempt August 21-27, 2011

Louisiana – Hurricane preparedness items up to $1,500 are exempt May 28-29, 2011

Maryland – Energy star products are exempt on February 19-21, 2011

North Carolina – Clothing and school supplies up to $100, instructional material up to $300, computers to $3,500, and sports equipment to $50 are exempt August 5-7, 2011

Texas – Energy star rated air conditioners up to $6,000, others up to $2,000 are exempt May 28-30, 2011

Virginia – Energy star products up to $2,500 are exempt October 7-10, 2011

A few years ago when I lived in New Mexico I took advantage of the sales tax holiday when I bought myself a new Apple MacBook computer. I was all prepared to buy it about a month before the holiday, but someone reminded me that it was coming up — and saved me almost $100 in the process! Because the computer was right around $1,000 I didn’t have to pay any sales tax on it. Pretty cool, right? It was totally worth the wait of a few weeks to save that kind of money. So if you have some expenses coming up, check out the list to see when your sales tax holiday is to potentially save yourself some dough.

The Federation of Tax Administrators says that the list may not be complete and up-to-date, so if your state isn’t yet listed there you may want to check back in a little bit or visit your state’s taxation and revenue website. To access the list for all states with published sales tax holidays as of this writing you can click through to the FTA website.

(photo credit: Vectorportal)


How to Prepare for a Job Interview

Looking for a new job? You most certainly are not alone, as millions of Americans are currently unemployed and doing their best to find work. Because of this, you need to make sure that if you can land an interview that you stand out amongst all other candidates. Smart job applicants prepare themselves for interviews, not unlike athletes who spend hours at the gym every day to prepare for each game. The spoils go to the victor, so they say, and you need to make sure that your one shot at employment with that new company goes well and in your favor. By spending time prepping before you step foot in their door, you increase your chances at being remembered by those in charge — and then hopefully hired because of it. Here are some important tips to help you prepare for a job interview before you even put on your best suit and tie and head out the door.

1. Clean up your appearance.
Well, unless your new employer won’t care, that is. Trim your beard, get a hair cut, clean your favorite dress, check those fingernails, shine your shoes. Appearance matters in most cases, so be sure to look your best.

2. Update your resume with current information.
If you sent your resume to this company two months ago and that’s the version they are reading from, is it up to date? Has anything changed in the last two months? Make sure it’s up to date and be sure to bring multiple copies to hand out if necessary.

3. Set up practice interviews.
Ask friends and family to play the role of interviewer with you and pepper you with questions about your job history, interests, long-term goals, etc. Make sure they ask you about everything on your resume, which you should know backward and forward.

4. Find out about the company you are interviewing at.
Research them online, ask around, spend some time on their website, find out exactly what they do. You will probably be asked why you want to work at said company; make sure you have a good answer.

5. Make sure you know a lot about the job you are interviewing for.
If the job is for a software engineer, try to find out exactly what you will be engineering! Unless you are interviewing for a job as a gas station attendant, you should know what it is your job will entail before you step foot in the office.

6. Know everything about your previous jobs.
Favorites, least favorites, job duties, why you left. You don’t want to have to stammer to find the answer when you are asked about previous employment.

7. Consider hiring an interview coach.
If you are really nervous about flubbing your interview, hire someone to help you! Job coaches are available almost everywhere, and an investment in your future is a worthwhile investment indeed.

8. Do not ask about salary.
Let them bring it up, lest you look like you are only concerned about how much you will get paid. If they are interested in you, salary will be discussed.

9. Show up on time.
Nothing says “interview fail” like showing up late. Practice the drive to the location the day before, if you need to. Just do not be late and do not be there any earlier than 10 minutes before your scheduled interview time.

Almost every interview will contain a series of questions asked by the interviewee, so be ready to answer common interview questions. Any book in the bookstore about finding a job will list questions that you should know the answers to, and here are some of the most common ones you may hear:

  • What did you like most about your current or last job you held?
  • What do you like least about your current or last job you held?
  • What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
  • How do you handle problems/issues with co-workers?
  • Why did you leave your last job?
  • What is your greatest weakness?
  • What are your long-term goals?

And be sure you have questions for the interviewer as well. You don’t want to be that guy or girl who when asked “Do you have any questions for me?” who answers with a resounding “nope”. Here are a few questions you can ask about your potential employer:

  • What is the company’s plan for the next five years or so?
  • What are the day-to-day responsibilities of this job?
  • How is job performance measured?
  • What do you like about working for this company?
  • Will I receive any formal training?

Job interviews aren’t easy and often cause stress and anxiety. But by being informed before you even go in, you can relieve some of those issues and give them an interview that will land you that job. And if you don’t find out if you got the job or not while still sitting in the building, be sure to send a thank-you note to each person who interviewed you. I’m not talking about a text message, a shout-out on Facebook, or an email. Send a paper note via regular postal mail. This shows class and a true eagerness to want to work for the company.

Happy job-hunting and interviewing; best of luck to you!

(photo credit: philcampbell)


Top 10 Best Companies to Work For in 2011

It’s time for another listing of the best places to work for the year, and this time I came across the new list over at CNNMoney.com. Listing the 100 best companies to work for in 2011 must be a lot of work, but I am thankful that they put it together each year because I truly enjoy seeing who makes the list and why. Granted, in this economy people are probably just thrilled to have a job, never mind a good one at one of these companies, but it’s always worth keeping in mind which companies make for better employers. Some on the list really surprised me! While the list can be divided out by categories such as size, women and minority hiring, job growth, and low turnover rate, I just wanted to mention the overall listing and why the Top 10 companies were chosen. Let’s take a look…

1. SAS – Coming in at first place for the second year in a row, software company SAS provides on-site healthcare, inexpensive child-care, car washes, a full-featured gym, and much more.

2. Boston Consulting Group – Without laying off anyone during this recession, BCG had its largest amounts of new hires ever in 2010.

3. Wegmans Food Markets – From what I have heard, Wegmans is a great place to work. This customer-friendly supermarket chain cares about the well-being of its workers, too. Great benefits, health screenings, and employee discounts all add up.

4. Google – Kind of a no-brainer on the list, especially for tech geeks like myself. Perks include free food, free laundry service, free use of plug-in Prius’, and a 10% pay raise across the board in 2010. I’ve always been jealous of those smart enough to work for them.

5. NetApp – Between the free food, free coffee, and the fact that assistants make around $100,000 per year, NetApp sounds like a pretty cool place to work, right?

6. Zappos.com – Owned by Amazon.com (which I didn’t know), Zappos provides free lunch, free vending machines, and free access to a life coach right inside company headquarters. Judging by the amazing customer service they offer, people who work there really enjoy their jobs.

7. Camden Property Trust – Employees here voluntarily helped to cut expenses to help the apartment management company stay in the black, which I think says a lot. Employees can even rent apartments for use on vacations — for just $20 per night.

8. Nugget Market – While the methods seem a bit odd from a distance, this supermarket chain holds daily events for employees where they can get bonuses in amounts from $20 to $1,500.

9. REI – One of my favorite places to spend a few hours, REI offers employees 50%-75% discounts on branded equipment, free rentals, and 4 week sabbaticals after 15 years of service.

10. Dreamworks – I have heard nothing but good things about Dreamworks from friends still in the “industry”, and it might be because they provide free breakfast and lunch, movies, and yoga.

Well there you have it; the Top 10 best companies to work for in 2011. What are you waiting for — send in that application! Do you work for any company on the list? If so, what are your thoughts on their inclusion?

(photo credit: Ү)

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