Lavender and Farm Fence

I took this photo on a visit to the White Oak Lavender Farm, which is a delightful place to visit. Travelers can clip lavender to take home, cuddle with a variety of adorable farm animals, participate in craft classes or simply relax with a tea party under the tent.

It’s one of many fun things to do in Harrisonburg, Virginia and a great activity for those who enjoy using lavender at home for things like baking, aromatherapy and decorating.

Photo Credit: Myscha Theriault

Learn How to Successfully Teach Anywhere in the World with My New E-Book!

I get asked about international teaching so often, I’ve literally lost count of how often I have the discussion during any given month. The truth is, it isn’t so much landing the gig – although there are critical strategies you need to implement for that too – as it is knowing how to function at a school which may or may not have even the basic supplies and support staff you are used to having available in North America.

That’s why I finally put all of the advice I’ve handed out over the years into a single resource for budding international educators. My e-book, Teach Anywhere, provides you with the tools, information and lesson ideas you need to successfully teach in practically any school environment. Here are just a few of the tidbits you’ll find inside:

How to use basic materials like donated newspapers and phone books to create meaningful lessons and classroom activities.

A giant list of spelling practice activities you can put to use practically anywhere, at multiple grade levels.

Where to look for the legitimate international teaching positions you want.

Easy ideas for literature studies, and companion art projects to go with them.

As you can see, a great deal of thought and experience when into creating Teach Anywhere. Experience gained in classrooms around the world. If you’re interested in wielding your chalk holder in some of the more exotic locations the planet has to offer and enjoying the affordable travel opportunities you’ll have once you get there, then by all means purchase a copy of this book today.

Why wait to apply for the overseas gig you’ve been dreaming about for your entire career? Believe me, making an international move isn’t as impossible as you might think. Many people just like you do it every school year. Teach Anywhere shows you how, as well as how to succeed once you land your dream position.

I’m very excited about finally completing this resource and making it available for teachers. I hope you’ll enjoy reading this book as much as I enjoyed putting it together. Enjoy your travels!

7 Things to Look for When Choosing a Business Hotel

 

Travel lots for business? If so, you’re surely aware that not all hotels are created equal. I’m not talking about luxury hotels necessarily, although they certainly do tend to come with all of the bells and whistles every professional needs. I’m talking about specific features and perks that make it easier to function at your best, regardless of your type of business or clientele. Here are seven categories I tend to check out when selecting a business hotel for a trip.

Amenities:

The key to operating effectively from the road for business is efficiency. While many people consider hotel amenities as incidental, I look at them as leverage I can use to make the most of the time I have in a particular location. Fitness facilities and indoor pools mean I don’t have to pack for winter outdoor exercise if I’m traveling to a colder location, whereas executive lounges and happy hour receptions mean not having to wait for a breakfast order and avoiding the cab fare that typically comes with wanting that after-hours cocktail before tackling the email that’s built up while I’ve been in meetings all day.

Service:

If you’re having to develop an expense report from the road or traveling for a job interview, the quality of service a hotel provides is no small matter. Ditto if you are trying to recruit someone and the venue’s restaurant staff treats their job like an afterthought. What it all comes down to is the fact that when you’re traveling for business reasons you’re going to require additional support. There are enough problems to solve during the day relating to your work, and having a staff trained to help you over the logistical hurdles that come with being away from your home office makes all the difference.

Transportation:

Whether or not a business hotel has a shuttle service is only one of the travel transportation issues you may need to consider. Also of note are nearby train stations, parking infrastructure and public transportation. The time it takes you to access these facilities is time you won’t be spending closing that big deal or landing a desired new client. Make sure you can get in and out of your hotel and where you need to go with ease, regardless of your chosen transportation method.

Location:

How conveniently your business hotel is located is a huge issue whether traveling for conferences, job interviews, recruitment goals or other needs. If you try to save money by selecting the inexpensive motel with no support staff or morning breakfast offering, then the extra taxi costs and time spent stopping for breakfast on the way to your chosen meeting location could end up costing you monies you would have otherwise saved or gained depending on the success of your trip. Also, it’s nice to be near a walkable area with things to see and do during what limited downtime you’ll have.

Necessities:

In this day and age, if a hotel doesn’t have free Wi-Fi, they can pretty much count on never getting my business again. Especially if they charge $200 a night or more. At that price point, expecting access to high-speed wireless internet isn’t unreasonable. I also expect at least a modest breakfast offering to be included with the price. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Oatmeal, fruit and tea will suffice. But it had better be there. Additionally, I appreciate a basic business center for printing documents or accessing email if my computer happens to choose to have a meltdown at a critical moment. It’s also nice for those of us who need to maintain a business wardrobe while traveling if there is some sort of laundry support offered.

Space:

I don’t necessarily need a multi-room suite, but room to work is appreciated, particularly when I’m combining business and pleasure on a trip. An extra chair is a must, and an actual functioning desk with task lighting is extra appreciated. The fact is, most of have to at least check in via email and crank out a document or two from the road these days. Choosing a hotel that understands this goes a long way towards helping your trip go as smoothly as possible.

Rewards:

Those who travel frequently for work know the power of being able to keep a business trip on budget. One way many road warriors and companies like to do that is by participating in the rewards programs offered by various hotel chains. Whether your favorite program lets you earn free nights, upgrade to the executive floor or provides free perks to those who book regularly, chances are there’s a way for you to save money. Executive floors tend to come with free breakfast and happy hour offerings, as well as complimentary beverages, snacks and private soft seating throughout the day which makes a nice quiet place to work if you don’t want to sit in your room alone after a day of networking.

These are far from the only considerations to make when you choose a business hotel, but they are my most common ones. Certainly, if you are planning an event or want to conduct on-location interviews then having a location with meeting rooms is critical. For most average business travelers however, these seven benchmarks represent an excellent starting point for making your selection.

Photo Credit: Trek Hound

An Interview with Dollar Stretcher’s Gary Foreman

Those of us in the personal finance writing community all know Gary Foreman. He’s been around since the beginning of the affordable living craze and always takes the time to be gracious with his fellow publishers and writers. Years ago, I had a chance sit down with Gary and conduct an interview. Here’s how the conversation went down.

Myscha: Over the years, I’ve used many of the ideas from your web site and newsletters to carve out extra money for savings and family use. What savings areas if any do you notice the most interest in? For example, would you say groceries and meal prep tops the list, or is the personal care category more popular? Frugal minds want to know . . .

Gary: The busiest areas are probably groceries  and auto financing. But, what we really want to do is to answer your question, whatever it might be. The loneliest feeling is when you think that you have a problem and you’re the ONLY one in the world that has it. Finding a solution can make a big difference.

Myscha: What are some of the top ways to save money you’ve noticed over the years, and can you suggest some specific articles from Stretcher that feature those ideas? Basically, what are your faves?

Gary: The most useful tool for most families is something called a “grocery price book”. Short of selling your house or car, food is the best place to save real money. And the best way to do that is to use a price book. I regularly hear from people who have cut their bills by 15% or more without changing what they buy or eat. It’s a simple tool that anyone can understand and use. We have a number of articles on price books at Stretcher. 

 Myscha: This next question relates to memorable customer / reader moments. We all have them, and I’m curious as to whether you have any that stand out in your mind. This could be unforgettable questions, jokes . . . anything really. Is there anything particularly crazy and out there that someone has written in about?

Gary: There have been some crazy ideas, but we don’t look at them that way. If an idea works for you, then it doesn’t matter if it seems crazy to me. Our business is to encourage people to try new things and share what worked for them. So as long as they’re doing that we’ll never point to a reader’s idea and call it crazy. The first caveman who struck two rocks together probably had people shaking their heads. Until he discovered fire and cooked their dinner!

Myscha: How has your life changed since leaving the financial planning arena to produce and edit the Stretcher material?

Gary: My life is much happier now. I’m a blessed guy. I get to do something that I thoroughly enjoy and make a living doing it. Not that being a financial planner was bad, but I’ve always wanted to own my own business and be able to make my own decisions. I get to do that. I’m passionate about the subject (frugal living). I get to work in an environment that’s continually changing (and thus challenging). And, I get to meet and work with some fascinating people. Doesn’t get much better than that!

Myscha: What do you see as the greatest unexpected benefit of financial independence?

Gary: It’s different for each one of us. Money makes a terrible master. When we’re working for it, our days are long and hard. But, if we get to the point where our wants/needs are in line with our income, then money can begin to work for us. We can use it to fund all kinds of things. Those things can be for us (possessions or experiences) or for others (charity). Stress kills millions each year. When you’re in charge of your money you’ve reduced or eliminated a major source of stress.

Myscha: Is there anything you feel people might not know about Stretcher that you wish they did?

Gary: That Stretcher.com started as a layoff project. I was working as a purchasing manager for a company that made mainframe computers. We were laying off people every quarter. I started The Dollar Stretcher while I was still working. Fortunately, by the time I was laid off (about 20 months later) the site and newsletters were starting to grow and showed signs of being successful. It’s a good thing, too. Nobody wants to hire a middle-aged cheapskate!

Myscha: What do you see as hands-down the greatest piece of financial advice you ever received?

Gary: That’s a tough one. There are many good answers. So it’s a close call. Probably the most important one for today was emphasized by Benjamin Franklin over 200 years ago. He wanted people to learn the value of compound interest. It was so important to him that he left a small sum of money to the city of Philadelphia. The only rules were that the money had to be put into a bank earning interest and it could not be touched for 100 years.

Compound interest turned the small sum of money into a fairly large sum, without anyone lifting a finger. I wrote an article on compound interest awhile back. I wanted people to understand how dangerous credit card debt was and how much easier life could be if they had money IN the bank instead of a credit card bill that they OWED the bank. 
 

Myscha: You were here before many of the other financial blogs.  What do you think of the newcomers and which financial blogs do you read on a regular basis? Who’s your Daddy?

Gary: We were fortunate to be one of the earliest sites on our topic (spring 1996). The early days were a lot of fun. Everything was so new and fresh. Most of us were pretty idealistic, too. I remember wondering whether readers would tolerate sponsor ads on our pages. Things got big quickly. I see a lot of good stuff out there. I think it’s great that there’s more info for consumers to use. My problem is that I don’t get as much time as I’d like to just look for good financial blogs/sites. We often get tips from our readers when they find a good site. That’s how I first learned about WiseBread.com. When we hear about a good one we try to pass it along.

Myscha: Favorite frugal finance resource: There are so many “financial gurus” out there.  Which ones do you trust and recommend?

Gary: We make a point of not pointing to specific gurus. In part because we don’t want to take responsibility for the advice that someone else is giving (you never know when one of these geniuses is going to have a brain cramp and suggest something truly stupid). But, mostly because the way to financial freedom isn’t that complicated. It really doesn’t require a guru. Just a willingness to learn some simple facts/techniques (compound interest, dollar cost averaging, diversification, basic tax planning, and a few others).

The toughest part is to stay disciplined and put the fact/techniques to work. Most of us know enough (and will earn enough) to live very comfortably. The sad fact is that we’re not willing to live consistently. And, when we get into trouble, we keep looking for a new answer (hoping to find someone that will tell us that there’s an easy solution to the problem that we caused). 

Myscha: Financial eye for the broke guy: Which personal finance books do you recommend for the average Joe?

Gary: There are a lot of good books on specific subjects, but for overall advice I’d say “Common Sense on Mutual Funds” by John Bogle. John founded Vanguard mutual funds, so he knows funds better than anyone. The book has been around awhile (1999), but the advice is timeless. Another is “The Millionaire Next Door” by Stanley and Danko. Everyone’s heard of it and you can pretty much find it in any library. You can learn a lot by studying successful people. This is no exception. Finally, the basic text for frugal living, Amy Dacyczyn’s “Tightwad Gazette”. Sometimes Amy took things to the extreme, but she reintroduced concepts that were lost during the 1950′s and 60′s to a new generation.

Myscha: Biggest financial temptation?  Basically, where do you allow yourself the most luxury and why?

Gary: Cars, specifically old cars. I have a ’65 Chevy Impala convertible that I take to local cruise nights. I’ve been in love with cars since I was a boy. And, the older cars are far more interesting than today’s wind tunnel designed jobs. They had style and a spirit. Back then an Impala really could get up and run. If you weren’t fast you’d be left in the dust. Today an Impala is just a badge to stick on the side of a jellybean car.

Myscha: Robust Elvis or thin Elvis?

Gary: Thin Elvis. Plus the Moonglows, the Harptones, Paragons, Del-Vikings and other great doo wop groups. OK, I’m not old enough to remember it from when it was new, but boy is that some pretty music! Hard to believe that it was mostly done by teenagers.

Myscha: Most hardcore frugal act ever: Just how extreme have you gotten?

Gary: I’d offer to let you talk to my wife, but she’d probably say something that would lead you to believe that I’m much cheaper than I really am. I guess it would be the summer that I decided our electric bills were too high. So I decided that we needed to cut back (including the AC). We live in south FL so AC is usually not considered optional. What made it interesting was that for the first month our electric bill was way down. So I really put the screws to our electric usage figuring I had found the mother lode. The whole family was getting mad at me by now. Especially when the second month’s bill was higher than the bill was before we even started. Later I found out why by watching the meter readers in our neighborhood. In the summer, it’s so hot that they skip houses and just put a low estimate in. That way they’re saved a few steps and the homeowner won’t complain about his high bill. They read the meter the next month and the consumer’s bill gets ‘caught up’. I took the low bill as proof that my methods were working. Turned out the meter reader was just trying to avoid heat prostration. (Of course, that’s what my family was trying to do when I shut off the AC!)

Myscha: Personal finance goals: What’s the main thing you hope to accomplish with your financial success and planning?

Gary: Naturally I like to make enough so that my wife and I would be able to care for ourselves as long as we live. And, enough to give our kids a good start in life. Beyond that I’d like our readers to be able to do the same things for their own families. The goal is for everyone to have financial independence.

Myscha: Funniest behind the scenes moment in the Stretcher offices.

Gary: Our cheapskate boss doesn’t allow any funny moments. Oh wait, that’s me.  We actually have a pretty loose office. Being in FL standard office attire is shorts, t-shirts and bare feet. If you’re answering the phone you’re required to sit up straight. We do tend to get quite a few local calls from people who think we’re a dollar store. Occasionally we’ll get one who doesn’t believe us when we tell them that we are NOT a dollar store. We’ve even had a few that tried to convince me that we had to be a dollar store. And, one or two who seemed to think that we were lying to them. The calls are fun. Usually they ask for something simple, but once in awhile it’ll be for something a little different (like the recent call looking for snake poison).

Myscha: Penny pinching butt kicks: Any particular instances you can think of where trying to be too frugal backfired on you?

Gary: Too many times to humiliate myself in public by retelling them! Over the years I’ve probably found as many ways NOT to save money, as I have found ways TO save money. My family fondly recalls the time I went coupon crazy and cornered the toilet bowl cleaner market. Over the course of a couple of months I had managed to buy (1 or 2 bottles at a time) all of one brand of bowl cleaner in south Florida! Unlike cornering the gold market, there wasn’t any financial upside to this one. In fact, it took seven or eight years to use (or give away) all of it. I had hoped that over time my family would forget about it. Turns out my hope was misplaced. Somehow they don’t seem to forget this event. After all, it could have been much worse. I could have cornered the market on something expensive or something that no one would use. At least ultimately we got to flush all the evidence of my addiction so no one’s the wiser today, except hopefully me!

Gary lives in South Florida along with his wife of thirty years and their two children. When he has a free moment you’ll find him restoring a Checker station wagon nicknamed “Two Ton” or cruising a ’65 Impala convertible with doo-wops playing in the background.

Photo Credit(s): iStock

5 Home Businesses You Can Start for Free

Concerned about having alternative revenue streams in case your company folds? Hoping to transition to a work-at-home job, but need a certain amount of base income to make it happen? Here are five home businesses you can start for free, allowing you to save your cash for college funds, family travel or that new kitchen remodel you’ve been dreaming about.

Stock Photography

Sure you can drop big bucks getting started in stock photography if you want to, but it is far from necessary. As long as you have a camera that will produce photo files of a meg or larger and you have the ability to take clear and attractive images, you can begin exploring your earning potential as a stock photographer. Whether you start with travel photography from your family vacations, or food photos from your ethnic cooking projects, the opportunity to earn money from this type of digital content is there.

Prefer to focus on costumed images with an educational or corporate theme? Take advantage of the free models you may have at your disposal in the form of a mild-mannered pet or enthusiastic toddler. This will add a sense of humor to your work which could pay off. Backdrops can be as basic as the parchment paper from your pantry, especially if what you are photographing is small in size. The list of stock photography sites is extensive, but includes such familiar names as iStockphoto and Dreamstime.

This is definitely a numbers game, and anyone making real money at this type of gig has a significant number of images in their portfolio. The perks of having income that’s passive are tough to overstate however, so putting in the time to enjoy easier income earnings later on isn’t exactly the worst idea. More and more people own juiced-up cameras these days so if you’re looking for a cost-free biz you can set up and come back to as your schedule permits, stock photography just might be for you.

E-Book Publishing

There are a variety of ways you can start this type of business, but many require you to pay a certain monthly fee in order to have your content available for resellers. One powerful and free option however, is to use Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program. It costs nothing to join, and their back-end user interface provides automated file conversion from a basic Word document as well as a free book cover design tool. Your range of topics is wide open, as people are publishing anything from literature study guides and how-to business manuals to romance novels and cookbooks.

Speaking from my own experience, I recently formatted two of my husband’s science fiction short stories and uploaded them for sale. For the cover designs, we used the free tool provided by Amazon in conjunction with some public domain space images. Sales started rolling in within the first month, which has motivated us to get the ball rolling on a variety of other content for which we hold the rights. The program also offers additional payment incentives through the Kindle lending program.  While there are certainly other online sales platforms for e-books, Amazon’s is massive. This makes it a reasonably safe investment of time, in my humble opinion.

Curriculum Development

If you have an education background like I do, and enjoy developing learning materials for teachers to use in the classroom, there’s no need to wait for the textbook publishers to call with an offer. New websites have popped up in recent history which allow talented lesson planners to get in on the publishing game. Two free ones are Teachers Notebook and Teachers Pay Teachers. While they both have paid memberships allowing developers to earn a higher royalty percentage or skip certain processing fees for individual sales, each provides a cost-free start up option for new curriculum writers.

I personally opened free accounts with both of these sites (which are linked to above), each containing a little more than 240 of my curriculum products. I see sales revenue deposited into my business account from both stores on a monthly basis with little to no marketing efforts, which definitely speaks to the size of their platforms. As long as you have access to a computer, a basic word processing program and a free pdf converter, this business is yours to develop to whatever extent you want. Those who don’t own a computer can always hit the local library and use Google Docs in order to get started.

Content Writing

Whether you are hiring out your services on a freelance basis or finding ways to have your content earn passive income over the long term, content writing is a free and potentially lucrative business anyone with reasonable language skills can start for free. Collections of internet articles are a decent cash generator for many people.

For example, during the first six years following my husband’s retirement from the military, I found high-traffic web clients who allowed me to earn funds each month based in part on the number of reads my articles generated collectively. In that amount of time, I was able replicate the amount of monthly passive income we received from our military pension which took more than twenty years earn. Not bad.

While those types of clients can be difficult to come by, similar earning opportunities are available on sites like HubPages and Squidoo. Each are free for anyone to join, and can be immediately monetized through free-to-use programs like Google Adsense, Kontera and Ebay’s affiliate program. While certain articles will make you more money than others, it’s important to know that this is definitely a numbers game. The more articles you post, the greater your earning potential.

Affiliate Marketing

One of the most beneficial things about an affiliate marketing business is the fact you are allowed to promote products and earn a portion of every sale without ever having to worry about inventory, shipping or office overhead expenses. If you have a cost-free online blog, a Twitter account or similar platform, you’re free to start marketing products you believe in. Link Share and Share a Sale are popular affiliate networks where you can begin to explore and apply for affiliate status with companies selling anything from name-brand candles to camping equipment and hotel reservations.

Starting your own business doesn’t have to require a huge cash investment. If you are disciplined, creative and self motivated, chances are you can turn your efforts into cold, hard cash sooner than you think.

Photo Credit: iStock

Slower Travel Makes for More Magnificent Memories

This image of the Quito observatory, the oldest observatory in South America, was taken on a month-long trip to Ecuador. Whenever possible, my husband and I try to take as much time as we can to experience a particular location. [Read more...]

Market Your Writing with High-Quality Photographs

If you’re trying to make your mark in writing, it doesn’t take long to learn that being able to offer high-quality digital images with your article packages will increases your chances of a sale dramatically. [Read more...]

Working from Home Brings Flexibility and Lifestyle Shift

When many people achieve their dream of working from home, and begin to benefit from the scheduling flexibility it provides, they are unprepared for the lifestyle shift that occurs when one moves from a workplace position to a telecommuting situation. Here are just a few of the changes you can expect. [Read more...]

Palm Trees and Stargazing on Florida’s Longboat Key

A trip to Longboat Key, part of the greater Sarasota community, provides a sense of days gone by. With its quiet seaside atmosphere and intimately-sophisticated restaurant scene, it’s an ecological nature getaway for hardcore foodies. [Read more...]

Having Trouble Navigating Your Finances?

If you’re having trouble navigating your personal finances, you’re not alone. Many people feel lost when it comes to searching for ways to save money. There are however, a few simple strategies for navigating your way towards greater financial freedom. [Read more...]