About Lance Cothern

Lance Cothern, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is the founder of Money Manifesto. You can read more about him here or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.

April 2017 Money Manifesto Blogging Income Report

Welcome to another edition of the Money Manifesto blogging income report.

April was an interesting month. Unfortunately, it was interesting in a bad way.

Before we get to the details, I want share that I publish these reports to help you, the reader, as well as to help myself.

I hope to inspire you that anything is possible when it comes to making money online. At one point, I thought making money online was a complete scam. Now it is my full time job. It is totally possible.

Additionally, I use these income reports to help inspire myself to continue to make enough to support my family. My income goal is $3,000 each month. The idea of reporting a number lower than that goal keeps me motivated.

What I Learned About Self-Employment This Month

Sometimes self-employment stinks. April was a rough month in more than one way for my business. The month started out with a trip to visit family, which was nice.

However, when I returned I quickly had to work to get ahead again before taking a cruise vacation in the beginning of May.

I had to make sure everything was taken care of before the cruise because we never purchase internet on cruises. That made April a much busier month than usual.

April was a bummer month for another reason, too. It appears that I have lost a client as they quit communicating with me in any fashion. That means much time was spent stressing out in April figuring out how to replace the income I received from the client.

I spent a decent amount of time searching for new clients and more work in April and I’ll update you on the search in my May income report.

April Blogging Income – $2,269.30

April was an awful month income wise. It was the first time since being self employed that I didn’t meet my $3,000 income target.

We have an emergency fund that can help with these situations if they become long term. Thankfully, we didn’t have to dip into the emergency fund because I have so consistently beat my $3,000 per month target.

April’s income was lower for a couple reasons. My website earned less income than usual. Additionally, as I mentioned earlier, I believe I lost a client this month.

Much of the month was spent trying to figure out whether or not I lost the client, so I didn’t spend as much time as I should have looking for new work. Lesson learned.

May could also be low due to the loss of the client, the website slow down and taking time off for a cruise. However, I know I can easily get my income back above the $3,000 a month target within a couple months with a bit of work.

Here’s how I made my income during the month of April.

Freelance Writing

While freelance writing has continued to be a stable source of income for me, losing a client in the month of April hurt. Thankfully, I don’t make all of my freelance writing income from just one client, so I still made money freelance writing in April.

The search is now on for a new writing client. I’ll update you on how the search is going in the May income report.

If you want to get started freelance writing, I highly suggest the Earn More Writing course.

I’ve learned quite a few things as an experienced freelance writer by taking this course. Even if you’ve been writing for a while, the extra money you earn from the tips in this course will more than cover the cost.

Traditional Advertisements

My traffic has remained steady or slightly decreased over the months, so my income from traditional advertisements has followed. I’ll be playing around with which ad networks I use in the near future. Hopefully this improves this part of my income.

Affiliate Income

Affiliate income is something I plan on improving. I’ll be taking the Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing course when I get to the appropriate section in Elite Blog Academy. I’m hoping this will greatly improve my affiliate income in the months ahead.

Right now, I only have affiliate income opportunities in a few areas of my blog. That said, they’re products I strongly believe in.

These opportunities help you, my readers, by helping you find great products. It helps me by providing some additional income. It helps the advertisers gain more business. Affiliate marketing is something I’d love to increase since everyone wins with this method.

Sponsored Content

Sponsored content used to be a huge money maker for me when I started my blog. Then one day I realized that the people paying me for sponsored content just wanted benefits in the Google search rankings.

After that day, I decided to only accept sponsored content that benefited my readers and followed Google’s guidelines.

Since that day a couple years ago, sponsored content income has gone down. However, I now am doing things the right way and helping my readers at the same time when useful sponsored content requests come in.

Do You Want To Make Money Online, Too?

Making money online isn’t easy, but it is totally possible. If I had to pin point one thing that led to me starting to make money online, it was starting this blog. This blog has led to many opportunities including freelance writing and monetizing my blog.

If you want to get started with your own blog, I highly suggest starting a WordPress blog that is self-hosted. You can do this by signing up for a hosting plan through SiteGround.

I used to recommended getting hosting through BlueHost, but over the last few months it has become apparent that BlueHost’s offerings are less than stellar. Big bloggers mainly recommend BlueHost because of the name recognition and generous affiliate payouts.

Instead, I recommend SiteGround based on their hosting service and great customer service for a reasonable price. While it can be slightly more expensive than BlueHost, if you’re going to be blogging for the long haul, SiteGround is a much better way to go.

I’m hoping future months result in a growing income. I know this won’t happen overnight. Losing a big client was a major blow, but I know I’ll be able to claw back from it. Check back next month to see how things are going.

Do you have any questions about earning money online? Feel free to leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer your questions.

The Two Main Paths To Retirement Couldn’t Be More Different

We can all take one of many different paths to reach our retirement.

The question is, which path is the right path for you?

Some advocate for the short and direct path to retirement by earning a high income and living off a very small portion of it.

Others want us to save a little bit over a long career and eventually retire when we hit the traditional retirement age.

Which way to retirement is the right way?

The First Two Decisions Dictate Your Retirement Strategy

The first two decisions you must make when considering your retirement strategy are “What type of retirement do you want to live?” and “How do you want to get there?”.

Let’s examine these one at a time.

What Type Of Retirement Do You Want To Live

Deciding what type of retirement you want to live can be a very tricky question.

People have a hard time imagining what they will want to do once they no longer have to work a 9-5 job, yet it is essential question you must answer to figure out which retirement path you want to take.

Some people would just be happy staying in their local community and taking advantage of what it has to offer while others will want to travel the world and live a luxurious life.

Obviously, living in luxury will cost much more money than just hanging out around your local town in a modest home.

Once you have an idea of the life you want to live in retirement you can begin figuring out a rough estimate of how much it will cost to live that lifestyle.

Then, the last step you’ll need to take is figuring out how much money you’ll need to have in your nest egg to provide enough income to match your future expenses.

Of course, how long you’ll be retired will play a large factor in your nest egg size.

How Do You Want To Get To That Type Of Retirement

Now that you have an idea of what type of retirement you want to live, you need to figure out how to get there.

Want to retire young? You’ll need a high paying job. You’ll also need to save a very large portion of your income, sometimes 50 to 9o percent, if you want to have your money last throughout your entire retirement.

Of course, if you’re willing to work in retirement here and there or pick up a part time job, you might not need quite as much money. Still, the large amount of money you’ll need up front will be daunting.

Don’t want to retire as soon as humanly possible? You have a lot more options available to you. You can focus on putting away a reasonable chunk of your income, around 20% or more depending on your age, and still reach retirement in the traditional sense.

In fact, you probably don’t have to worry quite as much about getting a super high paying job if you diligently invest a decent chunk of your income consistently. Instead you can find a job you enjoy that might pay a bit less if you can still live a comfortable life on a lower income.

You have more time to invest for retirement than the super early retirees, but the earliest years still give you the most value due to the magic of compounding.

We’ve covered the basics of the two main paths to retirement and how you can get there. In the next couple of weeks we’ll examine these two different paths in more detail to see which is right for you.

Which type of retirement are you leaning toward? Is the big up front sacrifice and small income in retirement worth retiring earlier? Or are you planning on working for the long haul in a career you might enjoy more so you can live a more well rounded life financially?

How Our Family Took A Free 5 Day Carnival Fantasy Cruise

When my wife found out she was pregnant last year, we were super happy. We were going to be parents!

Unfortunately, that meant we would have to take a break from our favorite vacation, cruising.

You can’t cruise after 20 weeks pregnant and our new son couldn’t cruise until he was at least six months old.

That meant we had to take a longer break than we would have liked.

Typically, we like to take two cruises per year. This time we took an 18 month break between cruises.

Thankfully, our cruising vacation drought came to an end recently as we embarked on a 5 day family cruise on the Carnival Fantasy.

As always, I like to detail our vacation costs here on the blog.

I like to share how we save money cruising as well as to share how affordable cruising can be, even for families. For those that aren’t familiar with the benefits of cruises, I’ll share why we enjoy them so much, too.

To make things even better, we were able to offset all of these costs and essentially take a free Carnival cruise.

Here’s exactly how much our 5 day Carnival Fantasy cruise cost and how we got it for free.

Our Cruise

For our first cruise with our son, we decided to take a shorter cruise out of Mobile, Alabama because it was close to home. We figured this would be a great test to see if our son would enjoy cruising without causing any major stress.

The only option out of Mobile, Alabama was the Carnival Fantasy, Carnival’s oldest ship. We didn’t let that deter us, though. We still had a blast. In fact, the ship has been kept up very well and has even received recent upgrades.

The five day cruise included stops in Cozumel, Mexico and Costa Maya, Mexico.

We don’t really do much in port other than look around the shops because we have amazing beaches just a couple miles from home. For that reason, we didn’t really care where the cruise went. We were just ready to cruise again.

The Cost of Our Cruise

Our cruise was not during peak season so we didn’t have to pay peak cruise prices. On the other hand, this was the first time paying for a third person so our costs were higher than usual.

Yes, cruise lines charge the same price for a 6 month old as they would charge for a 21 year old. The only difference is Carnival does not require gratuities for children under the age of two.

Cruise Fare

The cruise fare for my wife and I was $344 each. Our son added an additional $129. Our total cruise fare was $817.

Taxes, Fees and Port Expenses

Each person who sails has to pay these fees. They’re the same per person no matter how many people you have in your room. For this trip, we each paid $80.30 in taxes, fees and port expenses for a total of $240.90.

Suggested Gratuities

Cruise lines says gratuities, a fancy word for tips, are optional. That said, they automatically charge the tips to your account when you’re onboard if you don’t prepay them before you leave for the cruise.

Gratuities are a part of the cruise workers’ compensation, so we definitely leave this alone and pay the $12.95 per person per day.

Gratuities aren’t required for guests under the age of two, so we only paid for my wife and I. This cost was $129.50.

Parking

We always drive to the cruise ports, so we have to find a place to leave our car while we cruise. Usually, we shop around and find parking that is cheaper than what the cruise terminal offers.

Sadly, Mobile only has one cruise ship that visits the port and the port is downtown. That meant there were no parking alternatives. We ended up paying $18 per day for a total of $90.

Voluntary Tips

When you arrive at a cruise port, you drop your bags off with a porter. The porter takes the luggage and puts it in the proper area to get loaded on the ship.

While these employees are paid an hourly rate, it is customary to tip them $1 per bag according to Carnival. We tipped $2 for our two bags.

Onboard Spending

Onboard spending can add up quickly if you like to drink. However, this cruise we didn’t drink hardly at all. My wife had a margarita and we both had a free drink we earned from the loyalty program for a total of $12.87 including tips.

We took advantage of the multiple photo opportunities to get a couple of professional family photos. We bought two photos and a CD with one of the images for $53.97.

As far as souvenirs go, my wife purchased two shirts for $20 and we bought a Christmas ornament for $12.95.

Finally, because we weren’t drinking as much, I purchased two fancy deserts for $2.59 each or $5.18 total.

We also had received onboard credit of $8.49 per person or $25.47. This brought our total onboard spending down to $79.50.

Spending In The Ports

We usually avoid buying many of the touristy items vendors sell in the ports. This time we decided to get our son a small souvenir to represent his first cruise. We found a small maraca he could use as a rattle for $1. That’s all we bought in Mexico.

Travel To And From The Port

Travelling to Mobile only cost us $27.74 in fuel costs. On the way there, we didn’t have to stop for a meal. On the return trip, we got off the cruise ship a bit later than anticipated and stopped for lunch, which cost us $11.78.

The total cost of traveling to and from Mobile was $39.52.

Items For The Cruise

Finally, we did purchase some supplies to take on the cruise. In total, we spent $25 for things like Dramamine, bottled water, soda and other items we brought with us on the cruise.

Total Cost

Adding up all of the above costs bring us to a total of $1,424.42 for our family 5 day Carnival Fantasy cruise. In the end, we didn’t end up having to spend a penny of our own money to go on this wonderful vacation. Here’s how we offset the cost of our cruise.

How We Got Our Cruise For Free

Every time we shop at Walmart we use Walmart Savings Catcher to find us savings. Basically, if Walmart finds a lower price, we get the difference in a gift card. If you’re unfamiliar with the program, I wrote a whole post about it here.

We used $25 of our rewards to offset the items we bought for our cruise. We still needed $1,399.42 to pay for the rest of our cruise.

Credit Card Rewards

Credit card rewards are one of our main source of travel funds. My wife and I used regular credit card rewards and sign up bonuses to pay for our 5 day Carnival Fantasy cruise. Here’s exactly what we used.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus

For this cruise, my wife and I both signed up for the Barclaycard Arrival Plus. We each earned a $500 value sign up bonus for spending $3,000 on our cards within the first three months of having the cards.

In addition, we each earned $60 in regular rewards for spending the $3,000 and $23 in travel rebates for redeeming our rewards. We each earned $583 for using the Barclaycard Arrival Plus credit card for a total of $1,166.

After using the Barclaycard Arrival Plus sign up bonuses, we still had to figure out how to pay for the last $233.42 of our cruise. It was much easier than you’d think.

Citi Double Cash

When we aren’t working toward sign up bonuses, we use our Citi Double Cash credit card to essentially earn 2% cash back on all of our purchases. Over time, we had earned hundreds of dollars in rewards.

We redeemed $233.42 to pay off the remaining cruise costs and still had some Double Cash rewards left over.

The Credit Card We Don’t Use

If you’ve ever sailed Carnival before, you might be surprised to hear I don’t use the Carnival FunPoints World Mastercard.

While the Carnival credit card does offer $100 toward Carnival travel after the first purchase, it only offers 2 points per dollar on Carnival purchases and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. I’d rather sign up for cards that offer better sign up bonuses and rewards.

However, on this cruise I quickly learned many people don’t know about the great credit card offers available.

A representative sat in a highly trafficked area of the cruise ship offering a cheap Carnival backpack bag and a lanyard to hold your cruise key card for signing up for the card. The applications rolled in fast and furious.

If you’re going to sign up for a card, make sure you’re getting a better bonus than a cheap lanyard and backpack bag.

If you’re interested in finding credit cards to help you cruise for free, check out my curated list of the best sign up bonus credit cards, which I update monthly. I use many of these cards to help pay for our vacations.

Why We Enjoy Cruising

Now that you know how much our cruise cost and how we essentially got the cruise for free, I’d like to share why we think cruising is such a great deal.

Cruising Is Relaxing

When it comes to vacations, we like to relax. Cruises are perfect for relaxing.

Once you get on the cruise ship, you don’t have to make any major plans or decisions. You wake up in the morning, look at the activity schedule and pick what you do or don’t want to do.

We always cruise in the Caribbean, so we’re usually surrounded by beautiful water and scenery. There is something about being out on the water with nothing else in sight that is very relaxing.

As far as meals go, you have a few venues to choose from and many of them are included in your cruise fare. You don’t have to plan dinners or do dishes.

You can spend extra money and dine at a specialty restaurant or stick to the main dining room which serves great food, at least as good as the major restaurant chains.

When you get to port, you can take a pre-planned excursion or you can go explore the area on your own. Alternatively, you can stay on the ship and enjoy a very empty cruise ship.

One of our favorite things about cruising is the opportunity to disconnect.

While you can pay to get internet access onboard, we usually opt not to buy them. Instead, we enjoy the company of our family and relax without the constant smartphone notifications every few minutes.

Cruising Is Very Affordable

Our cruise cost us $1424.42 or $284.88 per day. For that price, we get a hotel, dining, entertainment and travel to foreign countries. I don’t know many other vacations that offer the same benefits cruising does at a similar cost.

As I mentioned earlier, cruising is made even more affordable by the fact that we use credit card rewards to pay our vacation bills.

If you’re interested in learning how to do the same, or would like my help using rewards to pay for a cruise, feel free to contact me. Do you like cruising or earning free vacations? Tell me your stories in the comments.

5 Stupid Things People Always Complain About When Buying A House

Let’s start out with a confession.

I’ve turned into a bit of an HGTV junkie.

If there isn’t anything else on and I want a TV fix, I end up watching one of a million real estate shows that seem to be on TV today.

Based on my HGTV watching experience, I have a good idea of many of the stupid complaints people have when home shopping.

I wanted to share how ridiculous some of these are so you won’t make the same mistakes others did.

In total, there are five things people should overlook when looking to buy a home because they’re easily fixed in most cases.

Getting the perfect home will likely cost you more than it costs to fix these five things yourself.

Paint Colors Are Easy To Change

I can’t stand it when someone walks into a house and complains about paint colors. I admit, the seller would have been smart to paint their home a neutral color for an easier sale.

However, almost nothing is easier to change in a house than a paint color.

Even the most inexperienced do it yourselfers can paint a room or an entire home! To top it off, painting isn’t outrageously expensive by any stretch of the imagination. If you’re so broke you can’t pay to paint a home after you buy it, you shouldn’t be buying a house anyway.

Light Fixtures and Fans

One of the easiest ways to update a dated home is to simply update the light fixtures and fans. The best part is that fans and light fixtures can be relatively inexpensive if you have simple tastes.

When we bought our first townhouse, we replaced every light fixture and fan in the house and it cost us less than $1,000. It brought our space forward from the 80’s into the present. Additionally, it really helped light up our home.

For the most part, these changes are easy to make, too. Simply turn off the power to the fixture and follow the instructions.

I had never changed a light fixture or fan before and, with the help of my dad, I was able to change them out by myself after the first one.

Don’t let dated light fixtures, fans or chandeliers keep you from buying a home. They’re an easy fix.

Flooring Isn’t What You Prefer

I bet you’ve seen a couple walk in a home and instantly complain that it doesn’t have wood floors running throughout it. Who cares?! Simply budget the cost of having someone install wood floors before you move in and you’ll be set.

It’s super easy to change flooring before you move into the home, so make sure you get this done as soon as you close on the house.

That way you’ll enjoy the brand new wood floors the entire time you live there and you won’t have to rearrange your life and furniture to get it replaced later.

Yes, flooring can be one of the more expensive renovations. Chances are you’re already getting a better price on the home because it doesn’t have these higher end finishes.

Decorations/Staging Of The Home

It drives me insane to hear people walk into a home and start complaining about how the current owner has their furniture arranged. I get similarly irritated when people complain about how cluttered a space is.

You’re buying the house, not all of the junk the current owner currently has in the home.

Imagine the space completely empty, or better yet, imagine it with your furnishings and decorations set up. It’ll make a world of difference.

You might even be able to get a deal because no one else can look past the awful decor the current owner didn’t think to get rid of before selling their home.

These Appliances Suck

News flash! Most appliances are easily removed and new appliances can be put in their place. You should check to make sure your desired appliances can fit in the current dedicated spaces that exist, but other than that, simply factor the cost into your offer price.

One big thing to look out for is whether or not the home has access to natural gas, if you’re a gas stove snob. That’s one aspect of the home you can’t change if there isn’t local access.

If you’re smart, you can even put these purchases on a sign up bonus credit card and get a nice chunk of your money back in the form of a cash back sign up bonus.

All of these five things I mentioned above are rather easy to change before you move into a home. If you could get a great deal that only needed some minor changes, why immediately throw the house out of contention?

It doesn’t make any sense to me, but then again I guess I’m not quite as picky as many of the crazy people that show up on HGTV.

What are your thoughts about the small changes I mentioned above? Do you look past these things when looking at houses and factor them into your offers? Or do you only look at houses that exactly fit your wishlist and pay a premium for them? Let me know your thoughts!

You Should Enjoy Your Side Hustle – Here’s Why

I like the idea of side hustles.

Doing something on the side of your main income gives you a bit of diversification should something happen to that main source of income.

Additionally, having a side hustle often gives you some extra money to work toward your major financial goals.

For many people, that involves paying down debt, affording extra luxuries, or working to become your own boss.

For people only side hustling for a short term boost, whatever brings in the money will do just fine.

However, if you want to side hustle for the long term, you should probably enjoy your side hustle.

Here’s why.

Your Side Hustle May Take Most Of Your Free Time

Side hustling isn’t easy. If it was, it wouldn’t be called hustling. Often, it takes quite a bit of time to get a side hustle running. In the beginning you could spend countless hours working on your side hustle before you make a penny.

Even once you get your side hustle up to speed, you’ll likely still spend time in the evenings and on the weekends maintaining or continuing to grow your hustle.

If a side hustle eats up much of your free time, wouldn’t it make sense to enjoy what you’re doing? Between your job and your side hustle, there would be very little time left for personal enjoyment if you didn’t enjoy at least one of the two.

If You Don’t Enjoy Your Side Hustle You May Give Up

Side hustling can be addicting in the beginning. You slowly see the side hustle you’re building turn into a real business. The growth and extra money are a nice boost toward your goals. But what happens after you achieve those goals?

Often, side hustling starts to lose its appeal. The sacrifices of free time you make to run your side hustle become more apparent. If you don’t enjoy your side hustle, it’d be easy to give up and lose that extra source of income.

That said, if you enjoy your side hustle, you won’t be as likely to feel burned out. You’ll continue growing or maintaining your side hustle and boost your income, as well.

Your Side Hustle Could Turn Into Your Full Time Gig

If your side hustle becomes very successful, it could turn into your full time job. While some people enjoy their full time jobs, many people simply work to make money.

If you’re building a side hustle that may become your full time job, it would make sense to do something you enjoy. Then, if your side hustle becomes successful enough, you can enjoy your new full time gig.

How And Why My Side Hustle Turned Into My Full Time Gig

I was extremely lucky and had this happen to me. I started this blog back in 2012 and through hard work over the years, grew it to the point it is at today.

This allowed me to make the decision to make blogging and freelance writing my main source of income while we started a family. In some months I make more money than I did at my old job, while during others I make less.

The important thing to my family is that we can raise our child the way we want. We aren’t forced to send our child to day care while my wife and I both head to work to earn money.

I quit my job before we started trying to have a child so we could make sure it would work out. Thankfully, it has.

Blogging Has Changed My Life

If you’re interested in starting a blog like I did, I suggest you start a self-hosted WordPress blog using SiteGround.

What many people don’t know is I tried starting a blog back in 2009. However, I used a free blogging program at the time. I quickly saw I was restricted on what I could and could not do on the platform.

I feel the free platform contributed to others not taking my blog seriously, since I did not have my own website. Instead I simply had my blog at MyBlog.BlogService.com.

Having a self-hosted WordPress blog will allow you to get started on the right foot and avoid many of the issues I ran into.

The blog only lasted a few short months before I shut it down. When I started Money Manifesto, I started self-hosted, found a support group and grew to where I am today.

Of course, if you’re starting blogging as a side hustle, be aware you won’t be making thousands of dollars a month immediately. It takes time to build a good blog and a decent following.

In fact, it may take months before you see your first income. However, if you do it right, blogging can be a very successful and enjoyable side hustle that you can grow for years to come.

Find What Makes You Happy

Finding what makes you happy can be difficult. However, if you really analyze your life you should be able to find something you enjoy that you can get paid to do.

Work to grow that side hustle and you’ll have money coming in to help with your goals.

Do you have a side hustle? Do you enjoy it? Let us know what it is in the comments below.