How to spring clean your financial house

It's almost spring, you guys. I don't know about the weather in your neck of the woods, but that's a welcome thought where I'm at, and I live in Texas!

(Northerners, feel free to make fun of my idea of a cold winter. I don't care. I did not sign up for anything colder than highs of 50 degrees.)

At any rate, I've been on a cleaning and organizing kick, a bit of early spring cleaning, if you will. I don't know what's gotten into me. Maybe it's that the days are getting a little longer and that we've finally had some consistent sunshine around here. And those might be the reasons we spring clean in the first place, according to TLC's How Stuff Works:<

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More about...Home & Garden, Planning

Before and after: A $6 ceiling fan makeover

Being a homeowner is expensive.

Correction: Being a homeowner who wants to tear out and replace everything in the house is expensive.

But my home is also my hobby. It's one of those expenses that falls into the "needs list" (shelter)and the "wants list" (my complete kitchen remodel). Living in aesthetically pleasing surroundings puts me at ease almost as much as a really mean massage, the kind where they throw elbows.

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More about...Home & Garden, Frugality

What do you do when someone constantly hits you up for money?

A few years ago, I wrote about how to lend money to friends without letting it ruin the friendship. To quickly recap, a friend needed help paying the rent. She had never asked me for money in all the years we'd been friends, so I knew she had to be in a pretty desperate situation. In fact, she was even on medical leave and tried to return to work early, but her doctor (and therefore her employer) refused to sign off on it.

So although I normally think that lending money to friends is a bad idea, this seemed different. I loaned her the money. Although she promised to pay me back, I looked at the loan as a gift, and expected that I would not be repaid. It would have been nice to be repaid, but I was being realistic based on all of the stories I've heard about lending money to friends. Therefore, I was only willing to lend what I was willing to lose. I also helped her boyfriend get a job.

My friend never did repay me, which was fine because I'd already assumed that I would not be repaid. Her boyfriend took the job offer and promptly lost the job. (She told me that the boss expected her boyfriend to "just do whatever he was told to do." Um, yes, that's how most jobs work, especially when you have next-to-no experience.)

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More about...Planning

8 hacks to help you keep your resolutions

When I was in the first stage of personal finance, I had two obvious goals:

  1. Pay off my credit card
  2. Save $10,000 for an emergency fund

It was by no means easy. But, I had a plan, and I hit my goal, and it felt so great. And then I set another goal: automatic deposits into a Roth IRA. And I did that too, gaining more confidence and momentum. Step aside Katniss, I was a girl on fire.

But after awhile, the next steps became a little unclear. Was I supposed to learn more about investing? Should I look for ways to save more, or create additional income streams? I wasn't sure. And since I had a lot of my savings on autopilot, I just let it ride. I didn't set new goals. I wasn't exactly irresponsible. I had a healthy savings account. I wasn't making bad choices anymore.

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More about...Psychology

Bad customer service? Talk to the CEO

This month, I started getting collection calls. Apparently my Internet provider wanted $61 for a modem that I returned last May. I'd been trying to resolve the problem for months, but nothing seemed to work. No matter how many times I asked to speak with a supervisor and was promised that the matter would be taken care of, that "I'll be the last person you'll have to talk to," I was getting nowhere.

During the umpteenth call, I began to wonder if I was in the first circle of my very own inferno. Maybe I'd been damned to an eternity of crappy, staticky on-hold music, interrupted only by the assurance that my call was very important. Damned to repeat my story over and over to people whom I began to suspect were dwelling somewhere in the eighth circle.

Eventually, I hit a wall. The last supervisor I spoke to said that since I couldn't prove that I returned the modem, I had to pay for it. So now what?

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More about...Shopping

For fraudsters, no target too small

A lot of people I know get at least part of their income from a side business. For instance, before I quit my job, I was freelance-writing on the side. I have friends who give private yoga lessons, who sell handmade items on Etsy, and who pet-sit. Before my mom retired, she started her sewing business and sold clothing online and at trade shows.

Technology has made it easier than ever to run these small businesses. There's an inexpensive and time-saving solution for everything from the proposal to invoicing. In fact, my invoicing software even helps me track income and expenses, which makes life a lot easier come tax time.

There is a downside

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More about...Side Hustles

Confession: I Don’t Track Every Penny

Sometimes my personal finance articles make my friends feel guilty.

“I read your article about saving money, and now I feel bad about the shoes I just bought,” says Guilt-Stricken Friend. “I don't need them. I think I should return them.”

Perhaps she's waiting for me to tell her that she's right, that she should return them. And then she should take that money she almost blew on something fun and put it into her 401K.

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More about...Uncategorized

Do you read the fine print?

We've all heard the advice to "read the fine print" before we sign anything, but does anyone actually do it?

I recently spoke with a man we'll call Randy. Six months ago, Randy went to a state fair, the kind that vendors of all kinds descend upon to hawk their wares.

One of those vendors was a hot tub company with a very recognizable name. They've been in business for decades. Randy stopped by their booth. "They had a specific color of cabinetry and material that was a perfect match for our deck, so I decided to order it," he says.

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More about...Shopping

6 ways to lower your home insurance

As a new homeowner, I recently had to buy a homeowners insurance policy. And as a personal finance writer, I tried to take my own advice and "shop around."

To be honest, it was a pain, and the rates I was getting on my own were way too high. Maybe it wouldn't have been so bad if I wasn't also trying to close on a house. In the end, I found an independent insurance agent, and she saved me hundreds of dollars and lots of headaches.

But I also learned that there were things I could do to help her keep my premium low year after year. For instance, I had planned to install an ADT security system, which I later learned would lower our premium.

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More about...Insurance, Home & Garden