How To Lose Pounds While Gaining Cash

How To Lose Pounds While Gaining Cash

As someone who has struggled with my weight over the years, I know how hard it can be to stick to a strict health regimen. Finding the drive to exercise and the self-control to deny yourself guilty pleasures can be exhausting. However, the key is finding the right motivation. Some people are using monetary incentives to fuel their weight loss. Here are 3 ways to lose pounds while gaining cash.

3 Ways to Lose Pounds While Gaining Cash

1. Weight Loss Apps

With everything going digital, there are a ton of apps to help you on your weight loss journey. You can find mobile apps to help you track your diet, create an exercise routine, record your progress, and motivate you to reach your fitness goals. However, here are the three unique apps that use cash to motivate you.  Although the platforms slightly vary, the concept is the same: these apps put a price tag on your desire to get fit.

HealthyWage

HealthyWage is one of the most profitable and widely used apps to lose pounds while gaining cash. You can place bets on yourself to improve your overall health and help you reach your fitness goals.

When you sign up, you set your goal and the amount you want to wager. First, you’ll need to open an account. Then, you use the prize calculator to set the time limit for you to lose weight. From there, it will determine how much you can win.

HealthyWage will reward you with cash for your efforts. But like any bet, you should be ready to eat the loss if you fail. If you don’t meet your goal, it is possible to buy more time to extend the bet. However, once you place the bet, there is no going back.

Members can also do a team challenge to help motivate each other. There is a $25 submission fee, but you could win up to $10k. If you do this challenge, you must verify your weight loss with a video call or in-person weigh-ins at a local Weight Watchers. These challenges offer good payouts for winners with an average purse of $1,400. And, there’s no points or prize system to convert cash.

DietBet

DietBet is another excellent app to help you lose pounds while gaining cash. It won’t pay as much as HealthyWage. But, you can still rake in significant winnings. You can get started by becoming a member, then setting your fitness goals and choosing the program you want. There are three different challenges you can try:

  • Kickstarter – lose 4% body fat in 28 days
  • Transformer – lose 10% body fat in 6 months
  • Maintainer – maintain weight loss for 12 months

Like many other fitness apps, you have the option to do it on your own or join a team. Just be aware there is a fee to join which is based on the size of the team. Furthermore, the larger your team, the less you can win. And, there are also fees when you place a bet.

  • 25% for bets under $100
  • 20% for bets between $100-$249
  • 15% for bets between $250-$500
  • 10% for bets over $500

However, DietBet makes it easier to win your bets and reap the rewards since it focuses more on long-term goals. People lose weight more healthily by setting more realistic goals. While you won’t know exactly how much you can earn, you won’t need to convert or redeem points to claim your cash winnings.

Stickk

Unlike the other apps that use winning money as the incentive, Stickk uses negative reinforcement (losing money) as a means to help you reach your goals. And, there are no limits on how much you can bet.

Instead of getting paid, you bet against yourself to lose extra pounds or stick to a fitness routine. When you join, you will sign a “commitment contract” to acknowledge that you forfeit the money if you give up or don’t achieve your goal. Then, you’ll be assigned a referee to make sure you adhere to the bet. If you lose, the money goes to a designated charity, person, or the app itself.

Then, Stickk assigns a referee to verify your weight loss or progress. Any long-term goals require a weekly report. However, short-term goals only need a final report at the end of the bet.

This app is a little different than others. Rather than motivating you with financial rewards, the fear of losing money keeps you on track. You can also invite friends and family to cheer you on and increase your chances of success.

2. Workplace Challenges

Apps are the only way to lose pounds while gaining cash. There is a long history of successful office challenges to help people get fit and get paid.

These are great for small office settings and inter-departmental challenges. When you first set it up, everyone needs to decide if the challenge will be individual goals or team competitions. Then they must agree to the timeframe, terms, and stakes. After this, you pool money and set the prizes beforehand.

Weekly weigh-in and visual trackers can help motivate everyone to commit to the challenge. It will also help to be around people who are supporting your goals. And at the end, the winner can claim their cash prize.

3. Reimbursements from Your Health Insurance

Although this may not be as fun as placing bets or holding competitions, your health insurance also offers you incentives to lose weight and improve your health. They recognize that a healthy lifestyle benefits their company since they will have fewer expenses. So, they pass the savings on to you to promote better health.

Some insurance companies offer reimbursement for gym memberships. This may cover the entire cost, or at least offer a discount. And, people with better overall health will pay lower rates and premiums which saves you a ton of money in the long run.

Tips to Stay Motivated

If you are having trouble getting started, here are a few tips that can help you reach your fitness goals:

  1. Find a workout buddy. Studies show that having a regular workout partner increases success. Having someone there to encourage and push you helps keep you focused. And, you can keep each other accountable so you don’t slack off.
  2. Choose a fitness plan you can stick to. If you hate to exercise or have limited time, it will be difficult to stick with a new exercise regimen. Be realistic with your goals and time commitment. And, choose an activity you enjoy doing and will want to continue long-term.
  3. Share your wins. Even if you don’t meet every goal, you should celebrate your wins and important milestones. Sharing your success with family and friends is also a great way to gain more support if you are struggling and need extra encouragement.

Losing weight can seem like an overwhelming goal. However, placing a wager provides excellent motivation to push through. But, when you make a healthy lifestyle your long-term objective, you win the greatest prize of all.

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How the 1% Deals with Inflation

How the 1% Deals with Inflation

The word recession causes many investors to cringe. Others clutch their portfolios and review their strategy as we hear inflation used more frequently. While everyone knows that we are in the midst of it, we are finally starting to feel the full financial effects. For those in the lower income brackets, it’s getting harder and harder to keep up with the rising inflation rates and general cost of living. If you are concerned about protecting your wealth during these downturns, you need a solid investment strategy to offset these increases. As I watch my portfolio take a hit and doubt my decisions, I have often wondered how the 1% deals with inflation. You may be surprised to find that it isn’t much different than your own.

5 Ways the 1% Deals with Inflation

So, what are the wealthiest investors doing to insulate themselves against rising inflation? In a single piece of advice, the answer is to continue investing.

1. Make regular investments.

Even during economic downturns, you should continue investing. Although your returns may not be as high during a recession, making regular contributions to your investments accounts has proven to be one of the most successful ways to build wealth and maximize returns. In fact, choosing not to invest is probably the worst decision you could make.

Although stock prices are dropping and inflation continues to rise, there are still ways to make your portfolio profitable. You just need to change your approach and turn obstacles into opportunities. Periods of market instability mean you will have to make several adjustments. But, some asset types will protect you through these fluctuations.

Certain services and products will always be in high demand, even during times of economic recession. Many companies in the healthcare, utilities, telecommunications, consumer staples, and discount retail sectors will continue to perform well. And, if you purchase stocks when prices are on the dip, you could position yourself to make significant gains when the market rebounds.

However, there are risks with every type of investment. Not all stocks in these sectors will perform well. Therefore, you should also include assets that have a valuation that inversely correlates to the stock market. So even when stock prices take a dive, your other assets gains will offset the losses.

2. Diversify your assets with gold.

Any reputable financial advisor who is worth their salt knows that diversification is key. It is one of the most important ways to protect your portfolio against market volatility and huge losses. So, it makes sense that it is a commonly used strategy when the 1% deals with inflation.

In particular, some of the wealthiest investors diversify by purchasing gold. Since it isn’t correlated to other asset classes, it has long been a safe haven for investors. As stock prices plummet, the value of gold drastically increases. Therefore, many purchase gold as a means to protect their wealth.

Investing in gold provides more stability, especially as you get closer to your retirement years. And, you don’t have to purchase gold reserves to reap the benefits. You can also get in on the action by purchasing shares in mining companies, gold ETFs, or gold futures. This way you enjoy all the financial advantages of investing in gold without the hassle of dealing with jewelry, coins, and bullion.

3. Earn passive income through real estate.

One piece of investing advice that has always stuck with me is that property retains value. No matter how much the market fluctuates, real estate is a valuable asset in any political climate. Of course, the location and the specifications of the home will greatly impact its worth. But, even if the existing structure collapses, that land still holds value.

However, many people overlook investing in real estate because of the upfront costs. It’s hard to buy a property if you don’t have enough for a down payment or the capital to maintain it. But, innovative companies like Fundrise are making the real estate market more accessible to average investors. You can get started with as little as $10 and buy a percentage of a property. Then, you receive your share of the quarterly distributions.

It’s important to note that while some people can make money flipping houses, the real value lies in holding the asset and waiting for it to appreciate. If you aren’t an experienced contractor or know what you’re doing, you could end up with a money pit and a huge financial liability.

There will always be risks to consider before investing in real estate. But with the increasing demand for housing and real estate, it could offer a steady way to generate extra income.

4. Invest in art.

Historical prices have proven that art is one of the most successful investments. And, it continues to be one of the top performers, outperforming the S&P by more than 180% between 2000 and 2018. Not only is it one of the ways the 1% deals with inflation, but investing in priceless masterpieces is also how the ultra-wealthy make huge profits.

But, you don’t need to be a millionaire to own masterpieces. Nowadays, even the average Joe can invest in artwork. You can buy individual shares of well-known pieces as if you were buying stocks with sites like Masterworks. However, it requires a minimum of $5,000 and a waitlist of 25,000 people. So, you may have to get in line if you want a piece of this pie.

5. Invest in Yourself.

Some would argue that the best investment you will ever make is in yourself. Using your resources to improve your skills or increase your earning power is the best way to protect your future.

Although it may start with a degree or certification, it also includes staying relevant. You should also stay up-to-date with new systems and skills needed for future advancement in your field. Finding ways to stay competitive and use your experience to a financial advantage is the best way to protect yourself against rising inflation and an uncertain future.

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When Is The Cheapest Time To Visit Disney World?

The Cheapest Time to Visit Disney World

As the weather gets warmer and summer gets closer, many people look forward to vacation plans. If your summer vacation plans include Disney World, then you are not alone. Tickets went on sale in February 2021 for this year. However, you will need advance reservations since they often run out. Planning ahead and knowing the cheapest time to visit Disney World can make your trip much more affordable. But as with most things in life, it all comes down to timing.

Ticket Prices Vary

Date-Based Pricing

Beginning in 2016, Disney switched to date-based pricing for admission tickets. In an effort to prevent overcrowding, Disney World adjusts the price depending on how busy they are. When the demand for tickets goes up, so does the cost.

Prices fluctuate regularly. So, if you see a good price, you’ll have to book it then to lock in the rate. The cheapest one-day ticket starts at $109. However, the same ticket goes for $159 during the busiest days of the year.

If you go online, you can find great discounts for entrance and hotels if you travel in the off-season. You should check out ticket prices ahead of time and compare to find the best rate and beat the crowds.

Different Ticket Types

There are also different types of tickets that give you greater access to all the parks. Depending on what you want to do, the cheapest option may not offer the best value. If you are planning your trip around Disney World, different packages allow you to take advantage of multiple attractions. Some also give you the ability to enter multiple parks on the same day.

    • Park Per Day – entrance to one theme park for the day
    • Water Park and Sports Option (+$70) – admission to the water park or the ESPN center for one day
    • Park Hopper Option (+$65) – allows you to visit multiple parks each day
    • Park Hopper Plus Option (+$85) – visit multiple parks each day, including the water park

The Most Expensive Times to Visit Disney World

As you probably guessed, the most expensive tickets and busiest days correspond with holidays and times when kids are out of school. Generally speaking, this means summer ticket prices are usually higher. But, you can find days with cheaper rates even during the peak season.

However, budget-minded travelers will want to avoid these dates:

    • New Year’s Day: January 1
    • Spring Break: April 1 – 17
    • Memorial Day: May 28 – 30
    • Thanksgiving: November 24-27
    • Christmas/Winter Break: December 15 -31

The Cheapest Time to Visit Disney World

Now that you know which dates to avoid, it will be easier to home in on the best prices. You will typically find that weekdays are the cheapest time to visit Disney World since it receives more visitors on the weekends.

When comparing prices, there are several factors to consider. A single-day ticket starts at $109 without any discounts. However, you will spend less per day when you purchase multi-day tickets. The longer you stay, the cheaper the prices get.

The Cheapest Time to Visit Disney World

For those who are looking for the cheapest time to visit Disney World, these dates fall between holidays and school breaks. You can usually find multiple days with the lowest rates in these time frames:

    • mid-January through mid-February
    • mid-August through the end of September

The Cheapest Time to Visit Disney World

The Best Discounts for Disney World

After years of practice, I’ve learned that you never have to pay full price for tickets. If you know where to look, discounts are easy to locate. Here are a few tricks to find discount ticket prices that can save you a ton of money on your next Disney World vacation.

  1. Be flexible. You will have a better chance to find discounts if are less rigid about the actual day you visit. Being flexible can land you better deals.
  2. Compare prices and multi-day discounts. Disney World rarely offers discounts on one-day tickets. If you book through the official website, you can usually find better discounts for multi-day tickets. However, you should also compare prices from different sellers. Third-party ticket agencies like Undercover Tourist, Orlando Fun Tickets, and Parksavers can help you get tickets for 8-10% below face value. You may also get lucky if you take your chances to score cheap tickets through online auction sites like eBay.
  3. Know your discounts. The last tip seems obvious. But, you may qualify for an additional discount that you aren’t even aware of. The easiest method to get discounted tickets is to purchase them online which saves you $20 right off the bat. However, here are a few other significant discounts that could net you huge savings:
    • Disney Vacation Club gets you 10% off
    • Florida residents get a 30% discount with an ID
    • the Military discount gets you up to 50% off tickets
    • first responders can also claim a discount when they book tickets
    • memberships with discount buying clubs and car clubs usually get you 5-10% off
    • an annual pass can save you more in the long run if you plan to visit several times

General Tips to Help You Find the Cheapest Time to Visit Disney World

Keep in mind that your ticket is only valid for Disney parks in Florida (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios). So, if you plan to visit Universal as well, you’ll have to purchase additional tickets. Furthermore, date-based pricing only applies to the Florida parks and hasn’t been implemented yet for the California parks.

Any unused days on your ticket are non-refundable. But, if you find a cheaper ticket or choose a cheaper option before your arrival, they will usually refund the difference. If you are set on a specific date or special event, some people recommend booking your ticket prior to your arrival date since the ticket can be used after the start date. However, you’ll need to be aware of the window of time when you have to use them.

The best advice for finding cheap tickets is to plan ahead so you don’t pay more than you have to. Part of this includes knowing which dates to avoid, which passes you’ll need, and buying them online. Good luck and happy hunting!

What are the best deals you have found on Disney World tickets?

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Choosing to Live as a Digital Nomad

Choosing to Live as a Digital Nomad

Over the last two years, more people have chosen to work remotely. However, there are many people like me out there who have chosen to live as a digital nomad long before the pandemic started.  While it wasn’t the original career path I had set out to pursue after grad school, it has brought me more job satisfaction than I could have ever hoped for. In addition to a steady income, it allowed me to work and travel for the last decade. If you have ever considered this kind of lifestyle, here are a few things you should know before you take the leap.

What is a Digital Nomad?

The first humans were nomadic. So, it makes sense that we have adapted this trait as we evolved. Nowadays, technology allows us to work and move freely without being tied to a single location. Digital nomads can live in whatever location they choose, relying on telecommunications to perform their jobs.  Unlike remote employees, we don’t need to have a base camp or a corporate network to log into.

Although many careers can accommodate a nomadic lifestyle, I work as a freelance writer and copy editor. I can handle all my job responsibilities and communication as long as I have my laptop and a good wifi signal. For someone like me who embraces adventure, needs flexibility, and can quickly adapt to change, it is the perfect job.

During my years abroad, I set up shop in Belize, Mexico, Taiwan, and as I backpacked across Europe. I’ve held conference calls in cafes, interviews from hotels, and produced content from train stations and overnight buses. As long as I kept bringing in clients and meeting my deadlines, I was able to support myself as I explored the world.

The Daily Logistics of the Digital Workspace

As the pandemic continues, more people are getting used to a hybrid environment and working from home. What once seemed like a logistical nightmare has become more attainable with technological advancements. Email, chat, and videoconferencing have also facilitated faster communication. Although they will never replace the social value of face-to-face interactions, it allows for instant communication and quick resolutions.

Freelancer marketplaces such as Upwork and Fiverr have also made it easier to market your skills and connect with potential clients. Not only does this mean more opportunities for a digital nomad, but also better chances to secure regular income streams.

But, your bottom line comes down to the quality of your equipment. If you are unable to depend on your tech to complete your work, then you will never be able to maintain a steady workload.

  • First, you’ll need to invest in a reliable laptop. Mine definitely shows its battle scars after years of being crammed into bags and jostled through security checkpoints. Yet, it still runs like a champ.
  • Secondly, you need to have unlimited access to a strong internet connection. My phone usually works well as a mobile hotspot. However, it may be worth purchasing your own portable device if you want to live in more remote areas.
  • It’s also a good idea to carry your own external hard drive. I perform regular backups of all my documents just in case something happens.

While it may seem like a huge initial cost, I know my technology will withstand the test of time and the rigors of travel.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the Nomadic Life

While the nomadic life can be very appealing, life as a digital nomad is not as easy or convenient as some would like to believe.

The Good

I have been fortunate enough to visit over 30 countries, earning an income to support myself along the way. I saw many incredible places and experienced many diverse cultures firsthand, immersing myself in them. As I gained professional and personal experiences, I also realized that the value of my skills had increased. After increasing my rates, I actually started to save and invest rather than making enough to survive. Achieving greater financial freedom gives you the power to decide when, where, and how you work.

The Bad

However, this life isn’t for everyone. And, it isn’t as simple as some make it seem. Starting your own business is challenging enough. But, it can be even more so if you are in a foreign location where you don’t have local contacts or speak the language. Then, you have to contend with visas and your legal status with immigration. The applications and runaround can be extremely frustrating and leave you with a mountain of red tape to cut through.

The Ugly

The total independence you have as a digital nomad is both a blessing and a curse. It’s true that you have complete autonomy to travel, work, and schedule your life as you please. However, after the novelty of it wears off and you settle into a daily routine, you eventually start to feel the weight of isolation and loneliness.

While I made friends that were more like family, many of them moved on to new locales within a few years. Even today we still keep in touch, but it leaves you with a relatively small support network. I grew increasingly homesick, especially during the lockdown. When my dad’s health took a turn or the worst, I decided it was time to return home. I wanted to be closer to my family and not miss out on any more important moment than I already had.

Starting Out as a Digital Nomad

Although I’m closer to home these days, I still maintain a career as a digital nomad. Looking back, I spent many years getting underpaid for my services. If you want to be successful, you have to know your skillset, the true value of what you can offer, and how to market yourself.

There are no guarantees that you’ll earn a sustainable income. But if you are self-motivated and ambitious, it is possible to turn it into a full-time job. Your success directly depends on the effort and time you put into building a career. Once you establish yourself, build a good reputation, and find your niche in a digital community, the world is at your fingertips.

If you are currently working as a digital nomad, what has helped you find success?

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50+ Items You Can Quickly Resell for Profit

Items You Can Quickly Resell for Profit

I spend a lot of time looking through items listed in local online marketplaces. There are some great deals out there. Sometimes I come across things that are practically being given away because they need repairs. I have often thought, “That’s an easy fix,” or “I could make money off that.” As it turns out, I’m not the only one. Reselling, or flipping, items for a profit has become a popular side hustle in the gig economy. If you know where to find items you can quickly resell, here’s how you could turn them into supplemental income.

Why Reselling Is Profitable

Anytime you find a low-cost supplier for high-demand goods, there is potential for a huge profit margin. Depending on the products you sell, it doesn’t necessarily require a ton of startup capital either. So, if you find your niche market, you could begin seeing profits right away.

However, not everyone is successful when choosing items you can quickly resell. You must be in tune with consumer trends to know what people are buying. Furthermore, you need to know which products offer the biggest return on your investment.

50+ Items You Can Quickly Resell for a Profit

The truth is that you can sell just about anything if you know how to market it. Believe it or not, people are literally turning trash into treasure by selling empty toilet paper rolls online.

So, if you are looking to get into the flipping game, here are 50+ items that are bringing resellers good returns.

Tech and Gadgets

Living in the digital age means that high-tech gadgets and products are in high demand. And, by association, so are the accessories that go with them. With a growing market, these are some of the easiest items you can quickly resell for a profit.

  • phone cases
  • phone tripods
  • wireless charging stations
  • screen protectors
  • wearable devices
  • microphones
  • Bluetooth earphones
  • TWS earphones
  • drones
  • watches (smart and vintage)
  • website domains
  • ink cartridges

Car Accessories

Since we spend so much time in transit, many people want to have comfort and convenience in their vehicles as well. Therefore, people buy accessories to equip them with the necessary functions and compatible tech. With the right supplier and quality merchandise, car accessories could be very good for your bank account.

  • LED lights
  • USB chargers
  • rear cameras
  • car phone holders
  • seat covers
  • interior organizers
  • air fresheners
  • wireless vacuums

Home Goods

Over the last two years, more people are working remotely and spending time at home. So, it makes sense that they want to improve the spaces around them. From home decor items to smart home appliances, finding a source for low-cost home goods to flip is a great way to supplement your income.

  • smart home items (plugs, temperature sensors, bulbs, wall switches, wireless chargers)
  • kitchen utensils and appliances
  • furniture
  • area rugs
  • vintage picture frames
  • vintage electronics
  • collectibles
  • vintage cabinet knobs
  • shower heads
  • hands-free soap dispensers
  • toothbrush holders
  • toilet brushes
  • candles
  • yard equipment
  • power tools

Health and Beauty Products

No matter how markets fluctuate, there will always be a steady demand for health and beauty products. And since many of these items are small and lightweight, it saves the reseller on shipping costs which is great for your bottom line.

  • reusable water bottles
  • yoga mats
  • resistance bands
  • bicycles
  • kerchiefs
  • hair pins and clips
  • high-end hair products
  • nail decor
  • makeup jewels
  • jewelry

Clothing

If you have an eye for fashion and a nose for sniffing out good deals, clothing could be the perfect product for you. Whether you are a new designer or a thrifter with a head for numbers, reselling clothing is currently one of the hottest online trends.

  • second-hand items from name brands
  • snow gear
  • vintage jerseys
  • sports caps and hats
  • vintage trucker hats
  • concert tees
  • fashion with puffy sleeves or classic blue items
  • strapless bras
  • baby items
  • vintage swimwear
  • vintage sewing patterns

Entertainment Items

Those who held on to their childhood toys or have accumulated lots of equipment from their hobbies could be in for a big payday. With fewer public entertainment options, people are looking for hobbies, games, and collectibles that bring back the nostalgia of simpler times. And, they are willing to pay good money for it.

  • baseball cards
  • video games and consoles
  • books
  • Legos
  • board games
  • plush toys
  • vintage toys
  • vinyl records
  • cameras and lenses
  • sporting goods

Where Do You Find Items You Can Quickly Resell?

Once you have an idea, the next step is to find items to sell. You can start with unwanted items around your house or hand-me-downs from your family and friends. If you still need more inventory, be sure to check out yard sales and estate sales for cheap merchandise. Thrift stores and flea markets can also produce quality items.

The other option is to find good deals online. You can scour clearance sales from retailers, wholesale venders, and online outlet stores for deep discounts.

How Much Can You Expect to Make Reselling?

When it comes to reselling for profit, your earning potential is only limited by your own ambition. Therefore, you need to determine how much time, effort, and capital you want to invest in the venture. And, you should also know what kind of returns you expect from it.

Although most people only see it as a side hustle, others have turned it into a primary source of income. In fact, some resellers claim to make six-figure salaries. However, you have to be realistic. If you are putting in part-time hours, you can probably expect to bring home between $500 and $2,000 each month. But, it’s not unreasonable to double this figure if you find the right product and audience.

What Are the Best Places for Reselling?

The first place people start posting items for resale is local marketplaces like Facebook and Craigslist. However, auction sites like eBay can help you reach a larger audience if you don’t mind shipping the products.

For those who want to earn more than just supplemental income, it’s a good idea to set up your own online shop. Depending on the products you sell, you could host a shop on Amazon, Etsy, Depop, Poshmark, or any other of the popular online marketplaces. Having your own dedicated store will attract more customers and get more eyes on your products.

Tips for Getting Started

As with any new business venture, do your research and know the value and profit margins for the items you are selling. Also, make sure you are up-to-date with the latest tax codes as well.

There is bound to be some trial and error. But, it could prove profitable with the right product and marketing strategy. You’ll need to set clear financial goals you hope to achieve with items that you can quickly resell for a profit. But, as any decent writer will tell you, stick to what you know. And when in doubt, seek expert advice to help you turn your ideas into cold, hard cash.

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What Russian Oil Really Means for Global Energy

The Effects of a Russian Oil Embargo

After more than two weeks, Russian troops continue their assault on Kyiv and the Ukrainian people. And, international leaders and organizations continue to lay sanctions against them. Some have gone as far as banning Russian ships from their ports and ostracizing them from the global community. However, many people fear this will send the economy into a tailspin. No one can be certain what lies ahead or how the markets will react to unforeseen political events. But, here are the facts on Russian oil and energy production, and what it really means for the entire sector.

Fear of War and Market Turmoil

A trip to the local gas station will paint a pretty clear picture of how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is affecting global markets. Crude oil prices are the highest they’ve been since 2008. On March 7, they reached almost $140 per barrel before closing at $123.70. As of today, it’s down slightly. But, the national average price for gas is $4.33 a gallon, and well above $5 in some areas of the country. And with no end in sight, the hike in energy prices will go even higher as the conflict continues.

Many conspiracy theorists say it’s just a ploy by the oil companies to drive up profits or to push the liberal agenda on climate change. While both may hold some truth, energy costs already were already elevated from Covid-19 shutdowns and disruptions in the supply chain. However, further sanctions and an embargo on Russian oil and gas imports could cause fuel prices to spike even higher. NATO has already revoked its trading status and international ports are refusing Russian ships entry. But, its members hope to avoid further escalation through an economic stranglehold.

However, if Putin is backed into a corner, he may cut the supply lines completely. This move would cause prices to skyrocket. A Russian economic blackout could wreak havoc on the global community, driving up the price of fuel, food, and other commodities. It also forces NATO members to reconsider their foreign policy with other oil-producing nations and lift sanctions to meet global energy demands.

European Dependence on Russian Oil

In recent years, many European countries have enacted plans to decrease dependence on Russian fossil fuels. But, many are still reliant on Russia for coal, oil, and natural gas. Once a major supplier, Europe now receives 41% of its natural gas from Russia. Due to their dependency, German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, confirmed that Europe had deliberately exempted Russian fuel from sanctions until now.

Simply stated, there isn’t enough supply to fill the void left by cutting off trade with Russia. As Scholz said, there isn’t “any other way” to secure the country’s energy needs right now. If Germany enacts a trade embargo, he assured the “lights will go out.”

Boycotting Russian oil and gas could be a crushing economic both for both Russia and Europe. While the EU is transitioning to more renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and hydro, it will take time. Renewables only account for less than a fifth of Europe’s energy demands. The EU unveiled its plan for complete energy independence, but it is still a long way from its goal.

Current U.S. Energy Production

The other factor to consider is what’s going on across the Atlantic. The U.S. is one of the world’s leading oil producers. But, it’s also the largest consumer. What’s more, is that our energy consumption outpaces domestic production. While the U.S. does import a significant amount of fossil fuels from other countries, only 3% comes from Russia.

To keep up with current demands, the U.S. either needs to produce more, turn to alternative energy resources, or rely more heavily on other oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Venezuela. However, each of these options causes issues:

  1.  While President Biden’s climate policies have limited oil production, so have the big energy companies’ reluctance to produce more because they are seeing record-breaking profits.
  2. Many politicians have resisted legislation to explore and utilize alternative energy options.
  3. Finding more trading partners means lifting sanctions against Venezuela and Iran, overlooking important foreign policy issues including human rights violations and nuclear deals. There are also strained relations with Saudi Arabia right now over the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

While none of these are ideal, it will likely require a combination of all three solutions to help curb rising energy costs.

Global Demands for Energy

The world is more interconnected today than at any other time in human history. Therefore, the invasion of Ukraine has had rippling effects across the global economy and within the energy sector.

Although NATO and the western world hope it will stop Russian aggression, there is no doubt that an economic blackout will exacerbate supply shortages. Revenue from crude oil, natural gas, and petroleum products accounts for half of Russia’s federal budget. Blocking trade would cripple their economy, but also global supply.

The only way to completely eliminate foreign reliance is for each country to strive for energy independence. This is achieved when countries produce enough fuel to meet their own needs. Not only does it create a more sustainable economy, but also eliminates trade considerations with less-than-desirable partners during times of political upheaval. Having secure energy sources allows nations greater autonomy and a stronger bargaining position in global markets.

If we have learned nothing else over the last two years, it’s that crisis accelerates change. The pandemic unveiled deep flaws in our healthcare and economic systems. Now, we are seeing how tenuous our global supply chains are.

Although it will further delay any hopes for some return to normalcy, Russia’s military aggression has forced every government to assess its energy demands and policies. Some are deciding that energy independence is imperative to their national security and the highest priority. If more governments adopt this same stance, it will likely accelerate the energy revolution. Even with recent advancements, were are still years away from breaking our dependency on fossil fuels

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Home Upgrades That Will Save You Money in the Long Run

Choosing the right upgrades for your property can be overwhelming because there are so many options. One way to select the ones you want to pursue is to look at upgrades that will increase your property values or save you money over time. Here are some upgrades you can incorporate into your home and yard to help you save money.

 

New Window Treatments

Window treatments may seem like a small thing, but they play a significant role in how the home is maintained. Thermal curtain fabric helps to insulate the home, keeping it from growing hot or cold thanks to the heat that comes in through an unlocked window. If you have an active, busy household with children, blinds might be a better choice, as they can be easier to use and clean. Choose a durable material like wood, bamboo, or aluminum to stop breakage from occurring over time. Experts say that aluminum blinds are one of the most durable and longest-lasting window treatments, in addition to being low maintenance. You can get these blinds in multiple sizes to accommodate any window that needs covering.

 

Reducing Water Consumption

Cutting the amount of water you use isn’t just good for the environment, it can save you money. Low flow faucets, showerheads, and toilets can cut your water usage monthly by almost half. You can combine this with appliances designed to use less water, like energy-efficient dishwashers or water heaters. This combination of water-saving features is sure to save you money and can help you appeal to environmentally conscious buyers when you list the home on the market in the future.

 

Add to the Existing Insulation

Extreme temperatures can send your energy costs through the roof, regardless of whether they are hot or cold. Adding insulation to parts of the home that don’t trap heat or cold air well, like the attic, allows the temperature in the home to stay more stable. One easy way to tell if your attic area needs more insulation is to do a visual inspection and see if the joists and framework are visible. If you can see the wood beams that make up the structure of the home, it can be a good idea to add more.

 

Programmable Appliances

According to industry experts, a central air conditioner has a lifespan of up to 20 years. If you have to replace your HVAC unit, choosing a modern one that incorporates the latest technology is a smart move. By choosing a programmable or smart thermostat to go with your HVAC unit, you can streamline the temperature in the home and stop overusing the unit. This will prolong the life of the system.

 

Replace the Roof

Rather than letting the roof get run down, replacing it as soon as you see the signs of wear and tear will prevent secondary damage from occurring. You can use a local contractor or business to repair and replace the roof surface and potentially get a discount on the cost of your roof replacement. Industry experts say that larger companies are infamous for offering lower introductory prices exclusively to new customers and ignoring the needs and wants of older clients. Using a small, locally-based company can give you a better result and make it easier to get help with any issues that crop up after the initial roof replacement.

By focusing on upgrades that help you save money over time, you can save on expenses while you live in the house and increase the value for when you are ready to resell.

How to Prepare for Future Funeral Expenses

How to Prepare for Future Funeral Expenses

One of the things that keep me up some nights is worrying about what comes next. Beyond the metaphysical question of it all, I also worry about those I’m leaving behind. Having witnessed it firsthand, it can be a huge financial burden on your loved ones.  While death and funerals aren’t favorite topics of conversation, there is no avoiding it. Death is the great equalizer and comes for us all in the end. Therefore, I’m trying to arrange things ahead of time and prepare for future funeral expenses, leaving no questions or obligations behind.

Why You Should Prepare for Future Funeral Expenses

Coming from a large family, death is a fairly common thing. I attended my first funeral when I was about 5, and we have laid many grandparents, aunts, and uncles to rest over the years. We view it as a celebration of life, sharing stories and comforting each other through the loss. Unfortunately, complications with finances can taint the services and make the grieving process so much worse.

Although some relatives planned better than others for funeral expenses and burial costs, they all had one thing in common: they were expensive. Today, the average funeral cost is about $8,000. This figure continues to rise as you add to the services or if the deceased has specific requirements for the funeral.

The burden of carrying out your wishes will fall to the person you name as executor of your will. This can be a heavy burden and a huge financial burden if you haven’t taken any steps to prepare for it. Even if you allocate funds from your accounts or estate, it could take months or even years to access the funds.

So, making arrangements to prepare for future funeral costs is a final gift I’m going to leave them. I’ll rest at peace knowing they won’t have the added stress of worrying about how to pay for it all.

5 Ways You Can Prepare for Future Funeral Costs

1. Pay for your own funeral arrangement.

Ideally, I’d like to lift the burden from their shoulders completely by planning the funeral myself. My goal is to have everything paid in full.

Although some think it is macabre, it ensures that not only can I save for it now, but I can include all the details I’d like for my arrangements. From the casket and service to the outfit and music, you can plan every detail. And, your loved ones won’t have to guess about what you would have wanted since you can tell them. I know I’ll rest easier knowing that I’m not leaving a financial mess behind.

2. Prepay for funeral services.

Prepaid funeral plans are a popular option for those who still want to make arrangements ahead of time, but have trouble with the details. You can choose a local mortuary to work with, and they will step in to help your family attend to things when you pass.

And when you prepay, you can lock in the current rates. This protects you against rising costs of inflation and land shortages which will drive the price up. However, they don’t usually offer refunds if you change your plans or move out of state. And if they go out of business, there’s no recourse to get your money back.

If you are considering this route, compare plans to determine what’s best for you. Be clear on the terms and fine print, and ask about refunds and cancellation policy. When you spend this much, make sure you know exactly where your money is going.

3. Purchase funeral insurance.

Although life insurance in intended to support your family after death, you can purchase funeral insurance to prepare for your future burial and funeral costs. Funeral insurance functions like many other plans, but with one key difference: you need to estimate your final expenses to determine which policy to purchase.

The funeral expenses will be the largest cost. But, there are other bills to consider such as healthcare, legal fees, and any outstanding debts. The most common plans include burial insurance, funeral insurance, and final expense insurance which range from $25k to $40k.

4. Set up a dedicated funeral fund.

If you know that it will be difficult to pay for your final expenses, you can set up an account and start funding it now. There are traditional savings accounts, or a Totten trust which offers better interest rates and pay the designated beneficiary who the trust will pay on death (POD). Rather than having to wait to access your accounts once your affairs are settled, the beneficiary can receive the funds by presenting your death certificate.

This is a good option for low-income earners or people who have no other way to prepare for future funeral costs. Even if you don’t save enough to cover all your final expenses, everything helps. And, if you start planning while you’re still here, you can use the compounding interest to your advantage. The sooner you open the account, the more interest it will earn.

5. See if you qualify for burial benefits.

Finally, I would check membership benefits to see which accounts or affiliations may offer assistance with burial costs. For example, my credit union offers $1,000 towards my final expenses just for being a member.

Veterans are also entitled to certain arrangements as well. They can be buried in the national cemetery with no cost for the site or marker. However, you’ll need to find out if they are eligible since space is limited. But, the VA offers other benefits as well to lessen the financial impact.

When the Final Bell Tolls

The bills never seem to stop, even in death. However, before your final bell is rung, you can ease the pain for your loved ones and prepare for future funeral expenses. Death and debt are heavy enough burdens on their own. So, I plan to do what I can now to ensure it brings us all some peace in the end.

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The 5 Best Electronic Payment and Cash Apps

The Best Electronic Payment and Cash Apps

Nowadays, it seems like everything is going virtual, including our payment methods. While we have had electronic payment options for many years, cash apps may soon become the standard. For some people, cash will always be king. But, many others prefer the convenience of sending money right from their smartphone. After reviewing the most popular ones and taking a look at which ones I use most, here are the best electronic payment and cash apps out there.

The 5 Best Electronic Payment and Cash Apps

While there are many reviews out there, this list is evaluating the best electronic payment and cash apps based on their convenience. From my personal experience, these five are the simplest and safest for my financial needs.

1. PayPal

As one of the pioneers of digital wallets, PayPal has one of the most secure and simplest ways to send and receive money. They are well-known and used in 200 different countries around the globe. Since nearly all my contacts have accounts and it’s free among family and friends, it is one of the best electronic payment and cash apps for me.

I first set up my account back in college when eBay was the rage, and have used it to handle my international and business transactions ever since. The site is easy to navigate with a plethora of tools to track and handle payments, or quickly request refunds if you sent money to the wrong account.

And, they have a strong reputation that can ensure the security of your accounts. However, you will pay for the convenience. There are additional fixed fees and 2.5% fees for transactions from credit cards, 2.99% for commercial accounts, and 3.49% for those using the invoicing tools. But, sometimes the peace of mind is worth the price.

2. Venmo

Since I already used PayPal, it was an easy transition to Venmo once I moved back to the U.S. It’s free, designed for your smartphone, and popular among my friends and family.  Some of them even insisted on Venmoing the money instead of cash for repayments. After signing up, I received my first transaction in a few minutes.

While I appreciate how easy it is to use, I’m not a huge fan of it being made public on social media or the 3% fee to link it to a credit card. And, it caps your spending at $299.99 until you verify your account.

However, it remains one of the best electronic payment and cash apps because it is widely accepted for peer-to-peer and business transactions. Venmo has improved its security with additional verification. But, they still don’t guarantee recovery of funds. Although it’s not my preferred cash app, I’m sure I’ll continue to use it with vendors and clients in the future.

3. Zelle

Zelle is an option that I initially overlooked, but have come to appreciate more as my client base grows. I didn’t realize that I already had it available with most of my accounts through their mobile banking apps. Zelle is free to use and will ensure you get your money the same day.

I was still able to sign up even though my primary credit union didn’t offer it. However, I was limited to only $500 when using these accounts. Moreover, some banks charged fees for the transfer.

But, it is still one of the best options if both parties already have an account. You get immediate transactions and the added security guaranteed from your financial institution. And, the list of participating banks continues to grow which will make it even easier to use as it adds new members.

4. Google Pay

Google Pay is another electronic payment option that I find myself using more often.  If you already have a Gmail account, then you basically already signed up. And, you can use it from your PC or smartphone. Since it integrates so easily to Google products, it can handle nearly any online transaction. And there are no fees when you send money to your family and friends.

Unfortunately, it is still somewhat limited for in-person transactions. However, more retailers and vendors are adding it to the list of electronic payments they will accept. The other drawback with Google Pay is that it can take some time to receive your money. You may have to wait up to 24 hours with transactions tied to your credit card, and 3-5 days with your bank account. Despite these time constraints, it provides a secure way to send and receive payments.

5. Apple Pay

Although it isn’t available to Android users, Apple Pay is super convenient if you use iOS. Anyone who has an iPhone 6 or later already has this option in their digital wallet. And, most users have already been buying music, movies, games, and apps with it for years.

The biggest draw is Apple Pay’s ease of use. It can be used at stores with NFC terminals for your in-store purchases. It also offers advanced security measures to obscure your information with single-use digital tokens. And, don’t forget that the high rewards credit card is another incentive to use it for your digital transactions.

But, you can’t overlook its disadvantages. It excludes millions of users from other platforms. And, they limit your transactions to$3k per message or $10k within a 7 day period. There is also a 3% fee if you fund transactions with a credit card. However, if you have converted to Android over the years like me, it isn’t likely to be your primary cash app.

Using Common Sense

Electronic payments and cash apps are financing the future. Not only do they provide a more convenient way to send and receive money, but they also add an additional layer of security to keep your information safe. Ultimately though, the best electronic payment option is the one that suits your individual needs.

While they make life much easier, you have to use common sense when funding your electronic payments and cash apps. You still have to keep track of your spending habits and be aware of tax regulations on large transactions. However, there is no denying that digital wallets will likely become the primary means of payment for millions of people worldwide.

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7 Reasons Why Investing in LEGO is Lucrative

Why Investing in Lego is Lucrative

Iconic and collectible toys have become much more valuable in recent years. If you search through online marketplaces and auction sites, you could probably find all your favorite childhood toys. However, LEGO sets have become one of the most sought-after toys and provide an interesting new investment opportunity. Nostalgic fans and avid collectors seek out the rarest sets for very high prices. So much so that analysis conducted by a Russian research team suggests that LEGO sets yield higher returns than traditional assets. So, if you are considering new investments, here are 5 reasons why investing in LEGO is lucrative.

The Results of the Research

A Russian research team from the Higher School of Economics in Moscow recently published their analysis on the value of LEGOs. Looking for factors that have been driving up their value in recent years, the team compared the current prices of 2,322 sets that were released between 1987 and 2015. However, they only included unopened sets that were in perfect condition.

What they discovered has led some investors to rethink their position on less traditional types of assets. Sets that are 20 to 30 years old have skyrocketed in value. In fact, LEGO investments outperformed large stocks, bonds, gold, and alternative investments, receiving an average of 11% in returns to only 8% from traditional assets. Instead of investing in collectibles such as art, jewelry, antiques, cars, or wine, the study may have uncovered a new market for investors to make significant gains.

7 Reasons Why Investing in LEGO is Lucrative

1. There is a huge demand for rare and collectible toys.

Many investors who have put money into collectibles have seen good returns in recent years. There is a huge market for collectible toys from the 1980s and 1990s. People who grew up with these toys are now in their prime investing years, so there is a resurgence in popularity. International expansion and the popularity of the LEGO movies only fueled the demand.

2. Limited and mint condition items fetch a high price.

One reason investing in LEGO is lucrative right now is that this type of investment is not well-known or utilized by traditional investors. And, the diminishing supply means increasing value to collectors. So, the chances of finding a valuable set are much better if fewer people are looking.

However, you have to know what to invest in if you want to yield high returns. Some LEGO sets generated 700% returns; others had a negative ROI. When choosing which ones to buy, the condition is important. The value drops once the box is opened.

If you look at price guides, you will see that the most valuable sets are worth thousands of dollars. Sets from LEGO City, LEGO Star Wars, and LEGO Harry Potter are consistently at the top of these lists. If you find pieces like the Millenium Falcon, the Death Star II, and the Imperial Star Destroyer, you could get a good price for it at auction.

3. LEGO is celebrating a year of bumper revenues.

Last year brought huge profits to the company. In fact, it was performing so well that it rewarded its employees with an additional three days of holiday time. After the first half of 2021, LEGO reported a net profit of $954 million. That was 140% more than the same period from the previous year.

Rapid expansion in the Chinese market also spurred profits. LEGO opened 40 new stores in China, bringing the total to 291 stores in-country and 737 worldwide. Even if they don’t maintain the same acceleration of profits, LEGO is still likely to be a solid investment for 2022.

4. LEGO is a well-established brand.

Companies that have a long history and good reputation are low-risk investment options. Lego has been around for nearly a century and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere either. Furthermore, they have built a loyal customer base and a cult following around the world.

5. LEGO appeals to all ages.

LEGO offers something for every age group. There are simple sets for beginners and more advanced ones for aspiring architects. With the mass appeal and branded sets, there truly is something for everyone.

People who played with them as kids are helping LEGO gain even more popularity as adults. Not only do people buy them for nostalgia, but also to share them with the next generation.

6. Social trends changing due to the pandemic.

Another reason why investing in LEGO is lucrative is because social trends are changing. Social distancing and health concerns mean more people are spending time at home. However, people need something to do when they are stuck inside for long periods of time.

So, I’m sure you can see why there has been an increased demand during the pandemic. Not only is it one way to reduce your kids’ screentime, but building sets is a fun activity to do with your friends or the entire family.

7. If you have a good design, you could earn royalties.

Besides the obvious ways to capitalize on LEGO, there are other ways to make money.  If you think you’ve got a million-dollar idea, you can try your hand at making money with your designs.

In 2008, the company began a collaborative project called LEGO Ideas, and openly invited anyone to submit their ideas for production. If your design is chosen, you will receive 1% of the royalties. So far, winning submissions have included inspiration from Seinfeld, Friends, and Ghostbusters.

Before You Invest in LEGO…

First and foremost, do your research and learn which sets are worth investing in. Not all LEGO sets will bring returns or prove to be a good investment. In fact, choosing the wrong sets could actually cost you negative returns.

Before you make any major financial decisions, you should also evaluate your portfolio and discuss it with your financial advisor. Any investment comes with risks. And, returns on these kinds of investments are not well-studied. Therefore, it’s better to make informed decisions even when a good opportunity comes knocking.

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