Month: February 2013

Here’s an update

My dear readers, it’s been six months since I updated you. As you know, about a week ago I changed the format of this blog and the reason is because the previous Theme was not allowing me to add 900×200 photos. I tried several times but because that Theme got updated several times, so it was getting a little complicated for me. So I went through several and after some analysis paralysis, I finally got this one that I really like. I think though that some of you probably don’t like the color, or format. I picked it because it’s user-friendly if you are reading this on an iPhone or other smartphones. I like the sky blue color also, and the beautiful mountain scenery. I hate cold weather in high mountains though!

To give you a quick accounting on “Saving Time“: I found that I sometimes kinda drift from one project then to a chore then to something I would like to read, then on to something else. I feel I am drifting along most days. For that I did myself a “Daily Task” where I listed 10 major things that I should be doing as far as blogging and other money making activities. Then I assigned 30 minutes, 1 hour and 2 hours to each task, depending on complexity. So everyday, I force myself to do these things first and in between I try to slip in an errand or a chore. That optimized my time. The TV watching is still minimal, although I watched the Superbowl. At night, we sometimes watch a funny sitcom (Frasier) recorded on a DVR so we can skip through the commercials. Someone told us that watching funny stuff at night relaxes you and gets you ready for bed. Sometimes, to further optimize it, I work on my laptop while watching the show

Saving Money update: We did a super detailed budget entered in Quickbooks. Having a budget and looking at the numbers is fun especially if it’s near the end of the month and you’re still below budget. It’s encouraging and it gives me a feeling of accomplishment that our financial ship is constantly steered to the right destination: Living BENEATH our means. Part of the budget is a one envelope system. All the cash that is allocated for the month is in one envelope. If we are running out of cash, we skip one or two of the expenses. Most of the expenses are paid by credit card so it’s easier to track. I like February because it’s a short month therefore less chances of overspending!

Improvements sector: I did a quick course in manual photography. It was well worth it. It was only three sessions but I learned a lot and now the DSLR camera is no longer intimidating. Of course, I still have to practice taking maybe… oh… another 2,000 snapshots before I can be almost an expert. Thanks to digital camera because I can’t afford to buy around 83 rolls of film! James is enrolled in a swim class and he’s been progressing superbly! We’re enrolling him in courses that can be used in practical life applications! I think Cooking classes is next!

Minimalism path: I opened an account on ebay after endlessly analyzing whether I should open one in Amazon or eBay. I liked Amazon but necessity dictates that eBay is the way to go. I have a lot of little items like bicycle parts that can’t be sold in Amazon. I thought about Craigslist but it takes a lot of coordinating time schedules just to meet with buyer. Then the haggling begins. In eBay, you post the item, you wait for bids, then you mail it out. Of course I studied three books and a few websites before I took the plunge. Because of this, I am now able to slowly cut down on a lot of excess (wanted and unwanted) stuff here at home while earning a little moolah!

So that is the latest! I hope you gleaned something from the methods and processes that I discussed. Wish you success!

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Optimizing Everything

Perhaps you have heard of the Pareto Principle? The 80-20 principle? It has been discussed in numerous blogs and books of several writers/authors. This was discovered by Vilfredo Pareto more than a century ago.

What is it? It is a rule that 80% of results are produced by 20% of the causes or input. The original observation by Mr. Pareto is that 80% of Italy’s wealth is owned by 20% of the population.

There has been numerous studies on different things, which lead to some of these results:

-80% of the crimes are done by 20% of the criminal population.

-80% of individual achievements are produced by 20% of activities

-80% of sales comes from 20% of the customers

-20% of the features of an equipment are used 80% of the time

-80% of income are received by 20 percent of the workers.

The numbers are not hard and fast 80-20. Sometimes the ratio may be 70-30 or 90-10 or 75-25. The misconception is the numbers must add up to 100. It doesn’t have to be: So you’ll see variations of 75-30, 80-25, 70-40. I think you get the point.  It’s only a rough guide stating that there are uneven distributions in the real world. In summary, LIFE is NOT FAIR!

So knowing these rules, we can go ahead and see how it can benefit us in our everyday lives.

In College, I always have less time because I worked full-time during the days and has a full load at night classes. So when exams come and I had very limited time, I concentrated on studying intensively on maybe 30% of the chapters/subject matter/topics that I observed is near and dear to my professor’s heart. I didn’t know the 80-20 rule back then. I was just trying to pass the course

First, we figure out our daily activities. Which ones are those that give us the most production? Let’s take our daily tasks at work for example. Which 20% of your daily tasks will probably be very beneficial to the company you work for? Then concentrate on working on those. If you are involved with customers, which customers provide the most income to you? Then you make sure those customers are always satisfied. Which customers complain a lot? Try to spend as little time as possible with them, especially if the complaints are not valid.

You may make a list of your daily activities, maybe even the weekly activities. Which ones are productive and fun? Then you may spend more time on it (80%) by cutting off the wasteful activities (20%). If the majority of your activities are wasteful such as watching TV sitcoms, commenting negatively on websites or gossiping :), then you can slowly taper off on those and pursue that hobby you’ve been trying to get started on. Yes LIFE is not fair but it doesn’t mean we should waste TIME.

On the books or blogs you want to read, instead of spending “80 minutes” on reading two books or blogs, scan through a dozen in “20” minutes, then pick the best two or three that you can read later. This way, you already eliminated the ones that’s not really of interest to you.

On projects, hobbies or writing you want to do, spend “20” minutes (instead of “80” minutes on one project) on making initial work on several projects. Then analyze, think over and make a selection later on which 1 or 2 or 3 you really want to pursue immediately.

Think of other areas of your life where you can apply this. Let’s talk about relationships. Maybe 20% of your friends are obnoxious and/or may be bad influence, then slowly get away from those friends.

Of course, these may not make sense to  you, but at least you know now that you have this option of concentrating on the 20% of your activities that bring out the productive part of you. This doesn’t mean that you should only do your projects at 80%. You still need to produce excellent and complete products. The 20% needed for completion are for the details which make the product precise and outstanding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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You influence me

Yes you! and about a few billion people more. Did you know that some or maybe all of the actions that we do influence everyone else in this world? How?

Let’s say you decided to finish college, get a job – then you become a source of influence in your workplace. Your company was bought by a foreign entity. Now your influence has spread to another country. See the connection?

When I was in fifth grade, I met this young man who thought I was the greatest artist since Michelangelo. He had me draw comic books for him but in return he gets me the colored pencils and paper and treats me to free snacks almost daily. This went on all the way to our High School graduation. He was still my friend while going through separate college campuses, but I was never able to return his generosity for all the years that he treated me like a brother.

When our kids were growing up, I tried not to show the obviously bad tendencies of being a sailor such as cussing, drinking a lot and other sailor related endeavors. I didn’t want to be a bad influence.

Now that I’m older (not much really :)), I notice that my grandson James observes my actions and has a tendency to copy immediately. So now I feel that any bad behavior or decision on my part will eventually translate to him especially in these young years. So it’s like being under a microscope for at least a day or two every week. I had to consciously watch my every action because it causes him (or maybe someone else that is observing me) to conclude that what I am doing is right and therefore a perfect example to emulate. Of course, I fail sometimes, and that’s when my wife’s voice resonates like an airport’s public address system: “Watch what you are saying, someone is watching you” with the last four words spoken in a different language or with gestures to make sure James doesn’t understand (we used to spell out words like W-A-T-C-H  O-U-T but now that he is in second grade and scores 99% in Spelling tests, we had to change our cloaking procedures).

Flashback to more than two decades ago. I was delivering pizza part-time after my navy job and I happened to deliver to a group of young teenagers who were really dressed up in nice clothes and their faces look so nice and affable, both men and women. Then they gave me the biggest tip ever of my pizza delivery career ($15 which would roughly equate to $3,000 now if I invested them in Google stocks :)). So I asked them what organization are they. One guy said “Christian Youth Group”. I filed that in my mind for future reference.

Fast forward 14 years later I met these two young, rich entrepreneurs that claimed they were Christians. They rode expensive cars, yet when I had to ride with a group of them, they make sure I get the choice seat (for me it is the front passenger seat) and even when I ride their chartered plane, all of their employees get the choice seats while they sit at the back-end of the plane. On gatherings they have a tendency to serve people instead of acting like they have to be served.  Their wives and kids dressed modestly and the kids are very well-behaved, something of a rarity these days. The brother of one of them used his own money to give away thousands of Bible related DVDs, CDs, books and books to several families. Yet, he dresses modestly and drives a 10-year-old car. Their Father drove around in an old Toyota pick up truck (yes, the base model!). A lot of good role modeling, don’t you think?

Then I saw this Pastor on TV about 12 years ago. He dressed conservatively, very articulate and very knowledgeable. He had a wild past yet he turned around his life and now helps people make that lifestyle U-turn. He didn’t ask for money like other TV evangelists. He doesn’t condemn other religions and have a way of pointing out faults without being offensive or condemning. He didn’t promise a life of prosperity and abundance if you become a Christian. He doesn’t discuss politics or criticize the government. I’ve listened to a lot of preacher but he is the only one that preaches from a foundation of humility. If you want to know more about him, google “Pastor Doug” and you will easily find him. I hope to share with you the person who has given me the best spiritual guidance ever.

If we are aware that our actions, words and demeanor will influence people observing us – would we change for the better a bit at a time?

I prayerfully hope so.

 

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Reducing your Transportation Cost Part Deux

Although my post yesterday for Transportation cost was over 860 words long, I was still missing other things worth discussing, so if you’ll allow me, I would like to add a few more thoughts…

Lots of people seem to think that buying a used car seems to be more economically efficient than buying a new car. Well, remember a few years ago when used Priuses (or is it Prii? :)) was selling higher than brand new Priuses?

Some people buy used Toyota Trucks, use it for a year or two, then sell it at about the same amount or even at a profit. But in order to do that, you must invest a lot of time searching and you must be mechanically savvy or at least have a reliable mechanic that can evaluate before you buy.

Another alternative is a motorcycle. Not one of those with hulking 1,000 cc. engine, but rather a much more wallet-friendly 250 cc. It can handle high-speed freeways as long as you don’t ride over 80 mph. Why should you drive at excessive speed on a motorcycle anyway? Traffic tickets are expensive and crashing may mean a fatal end.

My personal favorite is the scooter. I’m partial to Honda although there may be a few more brands that may be reliable but Honda is pretty good at making vehicles and quality is the rule, not the exception. There are rules in individual states for licensing and registration for scooters or mopeds. These are perfect if your commute doesn’t have to go through a freeway.

If you live less than 5 miles from your work, it could be ridden by bicycle. Some people commute 20 miles one way on a bicycle but unless you really love doing it or training for a long mileage ride, I recommend 5 miles each way. Any bike that is maintained properly will do. I personally like chromoly (steel) bikes with mid-priced components. For rainy weather, you will need fenders front and back for personal comfort. Have a bike mechanic check your bicycle regularly to ensure that everything is working properly. You can buy a used bike also but you must have it checked professionally if you are not very good at bicycle maintenance. Invest also in an excellent bike lock or two to ensure your bike doesn’t get stolen. Ideally, it would be great if you can park it inside your office building.

Finally, there’s the ever reliable feet. You can walk 2 miles one way to work. You can walk a longer distance but you’re the only one that can decide how far you want to walk. Do yourself a favor though. Since you have to rely on your feet for your commute (and thereby saving lots and lots of cash), you have to treat it properly. Buy the best fitting and comfortable shoes you can afford. Err on the side of buying high-end as long as the quality, comfort and great fit is there. It also helps your back, your spine and your overall health if your feet is well supported.

Even if you don’t walk to work, your feet needs proper shoes for your overall well-being.  :)

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Reducing your Transportation Costs

This is part three in the “Savings” series. The first one was on groceries and the second was on clothes.

This article is about saving on your transportation cost – not only in your daily commute to work – but also every time you have to use a vehicle to go somewhere.

If you already have a vehicle now and you want to save money on transportation costs, here are some of my recommendations. Please note that any of these may not work for you, and I would insist that you make a trial run in anything that may involve a long time change in transportation lifestyle. Of course, for some of them you can’t make a trial run – but you can do a lot of thinking on how you can find some savings somewhere in the expense.

If you are driving a gas guzzling car, truck or sports utility vehicle now (SUV), you don’t need to go to the dealer and buy a Prius (although that’s still an alternative). You will lose money because of depreciation. Best thing to do is to plan your next purchase months or even a year or two in advance. Do the research now on what vehicle you want that would not be too expensive to drive.

Besides the monthly payments, you have to consider the sales tax (if any), annual registration fees, maintenance, insurance and gasoline. Find the car that has a low 5 year cumulative cost. There are cars that look cheap at the initial buy but are actually more costly over five years.

When driving, accelerate slowly and avoid driving too fast. Over 55 miles per hour, you will be fighting a lot of air resistance and your fuel expenses will increase. Of course, it’s not safe to drive at 55 when everyone is going at least 65.  Following behind a tall truck can save you fuel costs too. But make sure you follow from a safe distance. The two second gap should be the minimum. It means that when the truck passes a certain point, it takes you two seconds to reach that point.

Keep your cars at least 7 years or more, before you buy a new one. Cars are so reliable these days (as compared to a few decades ago) that they can literally go over 200,000 miles (320,000 kilometers) as long as religiously maintained.

In your insurance policy, there is a coverage (called “comprehensive” in California) that pays you the market value of your car in case it is totalled or damaged in such a way that it would no longer be safe to drive it. You can take out the comprehensive coverage if your car is older because the premium you will be paying for that can be saved to buy a replacement car. For example, if your car is worth $9,000 now, you may be able to save a few hundred to a few thousand a year if you take out the comprehensive coverage. (Note: if you still owe money on the car, your creditor may not allow you to remove the comprehensive insurance). If you drive with above average caution and attention to detail and you don’t get distracted with electronic media, you have a very slim chance of getting in vehicle mishaps. The fear of “accidents” is what insurance company try to repeat to you in order to buy unnecessary coverage. You probably don’t need towing or car rental insurance. Save your money now for those needs. But how many towing or car rental did we really use every year? I could personally remember two towing and zero car rental for over two decades of driving. Are there other coverage that you may not need?

Try getting into a carpool with one or a few of your office mates, where one drives alternately so you only need one car for the two, three or four of you. You can also ask an office mate if he or she is willing to drive you to work and you pay him or her money for fuel, etc. Be a little generous because his or vehicle will also suffer from wear and tear while you ride in it.

Try public transportation. This is especially helpful in cities where public transportation is readily available and reliable. If there is a more premium type of public transportation, take that instead. You need a little luxury too in your frugal endeavors. Plus your commute will be more enjoyable!

You can move within 2 miles of your work. First, you will avoid the unhealthy stress of driving in heavy traffic twice a day. You save time (time is money!) Then you can either walk, ride a bicycle or skateboard to work.

If you decide to walk, ride or skateboard – map your route, map your alternate routes and then do a trial run. I don’t mean “run” from your home to your work address Do a drive by first. Then actually walk, bike or skateboard it on a day when there is very little traffic (maybe very early Sunday?).

Think for yourself other ways of cutting transportation costs. It doesn’t have to be done right away, but as you make little changes to your lifestyle, the savings add up!

 

 

 

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Lessons Learned from Everybody Else

In Sports, as in real life – the winning team usually is the team that commits the least mistakes or turnovers. In the smallest to the biggest games, the opposing team trades points. Some of the points are generated by the error of one player from the other team. At the end of the game, the team with the highest points wins, and the error-producing team goes home despondent.

Well, at least it’s only sports. It is not Life itself. In life, we make mistakes a lot too (probably thousands more than in an ordinary ball game). Mistakes are a part of growing up, or developing something and of learning. It is a given that we will make mistakes. But what if we can limit some of the mistakes? Is that a shortcut to success? Could be! But we don’t need to travel some of life’s rough roads if we don’t have to. Do you agree? Let’s discuss some more.

One of the way to eliminate mistake is to learn from it. We identify the cause of the error, and we file it in our memory banks. The next time the same event happens, we find a way to do it correct the first time. Sometimes, people have a tendency to repeat the same mistake over and over. It’s because they haven’t identified it as a mistake, therefore to them it’s worth repeating. An example is gambling or buying lottery tickets (as a rule lottery winners live a miserable life after a few years).

Another way to minimize mistakes is to learn from other people’s mistakes (OPM :)). I’m sure you know at least of three people who are making a lot of mistakes in their decision-making. No, you don’t have to discuss their mistakes with everybody else – but you have to analyze the situation they’re in. Questions to ask ourselves:  Why did person A make the mistake? Was it avoidable? Does he or she know it was a mistake? Was it really a mistake or it’s just my biased perception?

Once we identified that it was really a mistake, we now apply it in our situation. For example, cyclists crossing the stop sign is illegal in most areas but in some cities, it is allowed as long as the cyclist safely crossed it, and without causing a disturbance in traffic. If we live in area where it is illegal to ride through a stop sign, then it would be a mistake to go through it.

Identifying mistakes experienced by other people is like a shortcut or an easy button for moving through life’s challenges. By observing or reading about people’s bad choices, we have the unique advantage of making the right choices. Making the right choices will make it easier for us to be successful or at the very least, to have a life not full of regrets.

Of course, if the mistake was done by a close friend or relative, it is our obligation to point it out discreetly. We need to show love by recommending corrective actions to loved ones. More than half of the time, people don’t want your opinion, but give it out anyway especially if you know it is sound advice (not just to gain a favorable advantage over the person or to “feel good” about it). Who knows, one or a few of them might actually take your advice. Once, they do, you just help someone make their life better.

Isn’t that a great feeling?

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False Security

Did you ever watch automobile commercials where the manufacturer tries to convince you that their bigger vehicle will actually mean more safety for you and your families?

Did you read about how much net worth you must have before you can quit working and retire blissfully?

Have you heard about the underground bunkers selling somewhere in middle America where you will be safe from rogue intercontinental missile attack from another country?

We’ll discuss these below.

DOES having a huge SUV automatically makes you safe?

Huge SUVs give some driver a feeling of false safety.  It may be huge but it’s not capable of quick avoidance of obstacles without rolling over. In fact, it has been proven that the hulking SUVs are responsible for more fatalities and injuries than compact cars due to their proneness to rollovers. In fact, even if you are in a tank, you shouldn’t feel so safe. One anti-tank missile is all it takes.

DOES having Wealth equal FINANCIAL Security?

It’s a big NO! There are numerous sports figures and dozens of celebrities who earned tens of millions of dollars a year who are broke now. There are thousands of people that were living large back in 2005 that crashed with the real estate market by 2008. There are huge financial institutions that crashed down in the same year who had tens of billions of dollars in “assets” before the crash. Then they had to ask the government to bail them out.

WILL you need an UNDERGROUND bunker to feel safe?

If you already have the money to spend, a bunker would be a good place to hide safely in case intruders get inside your house. But buying a bunker in the middle of nowhere is a wasteful endeavor. You would need to move very close there and hope you have enough money saved or can find a job nearby so you’re always ready to jump in the bunker in case “something happens”. You would be leading a fearful existence.

So what’s the point of all these?

We should not live our lives thinking that material things will protect us from harm no matter how bad we behave. It’s like driving a Volvo recklessly because Volvo has been known to be one of the safest car brands, therefore no harm would come to the driver.  For automobiles, in order to have a feeling of safety every time we go out driving: we should improve our driver’s skills, drive soberly (not even a drop of alcohol or with enough rest), drive without unnecessary texting, phone calls or web browsing or even eating your meals and drive slower than normal.

To have financial security, we should spend way beneath our means. That means having a budget, sticking to the budget and not buying things when not needed. There’s a big difference between want and need, and buying for “wants” gets most people in trouble. By spending less, you will save a lot of money. Even if you lose your job, you won’t have to panic. Even if you get a lower paying job, you know you can make it because you are used to living with less. Even if you can’t find a job for years, you will survive without being a problem for other people.

To have a safe home, it is best to pay attention to the basics:
Lock your windows and doors at night. Don’t open your doors to strangers especially at night. If you have an alarm system, make sure it is turned on at night or when you leave the house. Have your front door (and kitchen door, any) locks have an extra level of security by adding a deadbolt or one of those devices that doesn’t allow it to be kicked in. Sliding patio doors may be reinforced by putting a rod in the track so it can’t be opened.  Make sure that it is easy to remove in case of  a fire by putting a cord handle to it. Glass on windows may be reinforced by applying a relatively inexpensive film to it that makes it tougher to break. You can also make a “safe room” by reinforcing the door and adding a lock to it. You can escape to this “safe room” in case an intruder comes in.

Having security will not depend on having money or having the biggest SUV or living in a bunker. In our world, the real security comes only from God. For example, did you know that George Washington (our first President) was a British  officer at one time?During the French-Indian War, all of the officers in his company were plucked out one at a time by sharpshooters because they were easy target (riding horses while the enlisted soldiers were marching shoulder to shoulder). According to the Indians, they shot at him at least 20 times. The Indians stopped shooting at him because they said he’s being protected by a “Great Spirit”. After the battle, he found out there were four bullet holes in his coat, but none of the bullets touched his skin. Now, isn’t that real security?

 

 

 

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