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.

How To Get Online Prices When You Need An Item Today

I hate when I need an item at the last minute.

Usually, buying an item at the last minute means I have to purchase it at a brick and mortar store.

Too many times, the prices at brick and mortar stores are much higher than the price for the same exact item bought online.

Recently, I had this exact situation happen to me.

Our Recent Experience Of Needing An Item Immediately

I was playing with my dog, Daphne, in our living room when I noticed a flea on her. She’s over five years old and has never had fleas.

I wanted to treat her immediately to prevent the situation from getting out of control so I started investigating flea treatments.

Ultimately, I ended up deciding Frontline Plus would be the best solution. Unfortunately, Frontline Plus is expensive, especially when you buy it in physical stores.

Some quick phone calls helped me determine that Pet Supermarket, a store just 5 minutes away, wanted to charge $60.99 for three Frontline Plus treatments. PetSmart, just 10 minutes down the road, wanted to charge $55.99.

At this point, I was a bit frustrated by the high prices. I did a quick Google search and found out Frontline Plus can be bought online much cheaper.

In fact, I could get it from Chewy.com in just two days for $33.24 if I qualified for free shipping.

Unfortunately, I thought about our situation and quickly realized I didn’t want Daphne to go without flea treatment for even 48 hours. That meant I’d have to pay over $20 more just because I wanted the treatment today.

I thought the brick and mortar stores had won.

I Found A Better, Cheaper Option

While Googling the online price of Frontline Plus, I saw PetSmart sold Frontline Plus online, as well. The funny thing was, PetSmart only charged $34.68 for the treatments online despite the fact they charged $55.99 in store for the same exact thing.

While reading the instructions for the product on PetSmart’s site, I saw the solution to my problem. Just above the description was the option to order the flea treatments online, yet still pick it up in the store in less than one hour.

I added the treatments to my cart, checked out and awaited the email stating my order was ready. Only 30 minutes later I received the email saying my order was ready to be picked up.

I hopped in the car, went to PetSmart, picked up my item and headed home to give Daphne her treatments.

Thanks to the in-store pickup option, I saved $21 and got the flea treatment medication the same day.

Always Check for In-Store Pick Up Or Price Matching

PetSmart isn’t the only store offering same day in store pick up. In fact, in store pickup is becoming quite common among retailers with both brick and mortar stores and online storefronts.

Ordering online guarantees you’ll get the online price for the item in most cases.

However, some stores will price match their online prices if you head to the customer service desk if you’re already shopping in the store.

For instance, we found out Target.com often has cheaper prices on many baby items we buy at their physical store and occasionally take advantage of this option.

If you need an item today, don’t simply give in and pay higher brick and mortar store prices. Check all of your buying options first.

Pick up in store is usually my first option, followed by price matching the retailers online site. If those don’t work, I hope I can find a brick and mortar store that is willing to price match their competitors’ websites.

Worst case I spent a few minutes trying to save $10 or more dollars. Best case, I save money with just a couple clicks on a website.

Have you ever had to buy an item immediately and found a better price on the retailers website? What did you do? Have you tried out the strategies above? Let me know your experiences in the comments.

You Should Always Compare Car Insurance Rates Every Renewal Period

I assumed that my old car insurance company, USAA, would always have the best car insurance rates.

I really liked the company. They had always treated me well so I wasn’t actively looking for a new car insurance company.

I had compared car insurance rates many years ago when I was single and once again when I began living with my wife, Tori.

However, I very rarely compared rates. I certainly didn’t compare the rates every six months, or each renewal period.

The few times I did compare rates, USAA did come out cheapest, but I never did a detailed search.

What Caused Me To Check For Lower Car Insurance Rates

When you’re completely happy with your car insurance company, very few people go rate shopping on a regular basis.

However, when I got married to Tori I called USAA to see how much my rate would go down. I was excited because I know getting married should have resulted in a pretty big rate drop for a young male.

Unfortunately, when they gave me my new rate I wasn’t at all impressed in the small decrease in premium I had received. I talked to the representative to make sure all of the proper discounts were being applied. They assured me they were.

I asked if there was any way my rate could be lowered while keeping my coverage the same. Sadly, they said I had the best rate they could offer me.

That greatly disappointed me and started me down the road of getting car insurance quotes from many different insurance companies. What I found out shocked me.

Other Car Insurance Companies Had Much Better Rates

Despite my 10 year loyalty to USAA, many other car insurance companies had better rates than USAA. Progressive, Geico, State Farm and a couple other companies all had better rates for the same exact coverage USAA had provided me.

Needless to say, I’m glad I shopped around after we got married.

While price is important, it isn’t the only thing I look for when choosing car insurance. I looked at the different companies, their customer service ratings and their financial strength ratings.

Had the rates only been a few dollars different over 6 months then I probably wouldn’t have changed. Unfortunately, the difference was much larger. Eventually I decided to go with Geico as my new car insurance company.

Geico came in at 20% less than my USAA car insurance, easily beating the 15% or more in as little as 15 minutes they quote in their commercials.

I gave USAA one last chance before I made the switch. I called them up and compared the Geico quote to the USAA policy I had and they said that Geico had them beat.

Even USAA was shocked.

USAA was very helpful and gave me a list of questions to ask Geico to make sure I wasn’t getting a teaser rate that would disappear after the first policy period.

I asked all of the questions and Geico assured me the rate they quoted was not a teaser rate. While my rates have increased quite a bit since the original quote, so have the competitors.

I’ll definitely be getting car insurance quotes at each renewal period now, even from USAA. Hopefully they can win me back one day soon.

Do you shop for new car insurance quotes every renewal period? Have you ever saved a lot of money like I did by switching car insurance companies?

Money Manifesto Blogging Income Report – March 2017

Welcome to the March 2017 edition of the Money Manifesto blogging income report.

As I always mention, there are two main reasons I share these blogging income reports.

First, I want to inspire others to start online businesses of their own.

Reading blogging income reports was one of my favorite things before I started my own blog.

They were inspirational and encouraged me to start my own blog. I want my reports to help inspire others like I was once inspired.

Second, I share these monthly reports to hold myself accountable. I need to make at least $3,000 per month to keep my family’s finances in solid shape.

These reports help keep me motivated to avoid dipping below the $3,000 per month level on a regular basis.

What I Learned About Self-Employment in March 2017

As I mentioned in last month’s blogging income update, I was working to get ahead so my wife and I could take a trip to visit some family.

I was able to get far enough ahead to go on the trip without working while I was gone, but I was surprised by a feeling I had while we were on the trip.

While we were there, I was still thinking about what I could be doing with my business while I was on vacation. I had worked hard to get ahead. However, while I was vacationing, all of that hard work was slowly slipping away. When I returned home, I was no longer ahead.

I really like the feeling of being ahead, so I’m going to continue to try to work as far ahead as possible in the coming months to give myself some breathing room.

Hopefully, when I get far enough ahead I can take some time off without feeling like I lost all the progress I made while working to get ahead.

As a business owner, you’re never truly on vacation from your business.

March 2017 Blogging Income – $4,452.13

March was a decent month for my online income, coming in at $4,452.13. This is great considering we took some time off at the end of the month. Let’s dive into the different ways I earned money this month.

Freelance Writing

Freelance writing continues to treat me well. I’m glad I stumbled into this source of income a few years ago. A client found my blog and asked if I’d be willing to write for their site as well. From there, I continued to grow my freelance writing efforts.

Today, freelance writing offers me a decent amount of semi-stable income. Even if I have a client with a slow month or I lose a client, I can always find more clients.

If you want to get started with freelance writing, I recommend taking Holly Johnson’s Earn More Writing course.

I’m about half way through it and have already learned plenty of tricks that easily will pay for the price of the course. It’s great for beginners and even has insightful tips for established freelance writers, too.

Affiliate Income

Affiliate income is something I hope to grow in the future, but makes me a little bit of money here and there for now.

One way I earn affiliate income is whenever someone signs up for a phone line with Republic Wireless. My readers save money, I make money and Republic Wireless gets a new customer. It’s win-win-win.

To work on growing my affiliate income, I will be taking Michelle Schroeder-Gardner’s Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing course later this year.

She suggested I take it when I reach a certain portion of another course I’m currently taking. I’ve heard rave reviews from my blogger friends, so I can’t wait until I get to this point.

Branded Content

Branded content continues to make me money here and there.

When selecting who to partner with for branded content opportunities, I always make sure that my readers will have a positive experience. That’s why you don’t see branded content for investments I don’t believe in, such as forex trading.

I get plenty of offers, but I turn every single one down that doesn’t fit with my blog. This wasn’t always the case. When I was first starting, branded content was a quick way for me to make money. In fact, some months I earned thousands of dollars.

However, I decided it wasn’t worth the loss of trust if I posted something I didn’t believe in. I stopped accepting off brand posts a few years ago. If you accept branded content, make sure it fits with your blog and benefits your readers.

Traditional Advertisements

Traditional advertisements continue to deteriorate for me. I don’t make nearly as much as I used to and my traffic hasn’t been increasing enough to earn me the same amount of money.

Hopefully this changes as I work to improve my blog over the coming months.

What I’m Doing to Improve

I’ve made a big investment to improve my blog this year by purchasing Elite Blog Academy. The course costs several hundred dollars, but I think it will easily earn back that investment many times over. I’ve just gotten started with the course.

The instructor, Ruth Soukup, highly suggests going at your own place and completing all of the assignments, so that’s what I’ve vowed to do. So far, I’m impressed after completing just the first module. I’ll keep you all updated as I continue to progress.

How You Can Start Your Own Blog

Thankfully, getting started blogging isn’t very expensive. If you’ve wanted to start your own blog, you can do so by setting up a self-hosted WordPress blog on SiteGround.

I suggest locking in the $3.95 introductory monthly price for at least a year, but you can sign up for up to three years if you want to lock in your savings for longer. After your initial payment period, the price increases to $9.95 a month.

I used to recommend a different hosting solution, Bluehost, because all of the big bloggers recommended them. It turns out the main reason for the recommendation was the name recognition and the high paying affiliate income bloggers could earn.

However, Bluehost has gone downhill as far as performance and customer service goes, so I no longer recommend them unless you want rock bottom pricing for hosting.

In the beginning, Bluehost is fine. When you grow, you’ll start to see some growing pains. You really do get what you pay for. 

If you have any questions about starting a blog or my income report, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions!

A Rant About How Tipping Has Gotten Out Of Control

Tipping. Everyone has their own opinions about the practice.

You normally don’t hear much arguing about it unless you’ve come across someone who believes that tipping should be optional.

So, what set me off about tipping?

The other night I was at one of our favorite restaurants.

It isn’t the cheapest place, but it’s on the beach so we expect to pay a bit more than a typical chain restaurant.

The shock came when we got our bill.

Restaurants Suggest Tipping Amounts

I’m sure you’ve caught on to the recent trend of restaurants printing suggested tips on the receipts. Generally they calculate how much your tip should be if you want to tip 15%, 18% or 20%. I think that’s fair, because that’s the range I normally tip in.

In my mind, I feel I should tip 15% if service is average, 18% if service is great and 20% if I didn’t have to think or ask about anything, such as needing a refill because my glass was empty.

Fifteen percent for just doing the basics of your job seems pretty fair to me. After all, I’ve been a server before and know that some people tip even less than that.

Not All Suggested Tips Are Equal

This time we got our bill and saw three suggested tip amounts at the bottom, but something didn’t look right.

The tips were called Good, Great and Excellent, which is in line with my normal tipping practices. However, they didn’t list the percentages associated with each category and that fact had me suspicious almost immediately.

I took out my phone and did some quick calculations and found out that Good was 18%, Great was 20% and Excellent was 22%.

Who tips 22%? And why does this restaurant feel I need to tip 22%, not the standard 20%, for great service?

Before we get into the argument, let’s first discuss what I actually tipped. Needless to say, I didn’t tip 22%.  In fact, the service wasn’t that great either. I’d call it OK, not even good.

Just so everyone doesn’t think I’m cheap and stiffed the guy, I tipped the server just a tiny bit less than 18% because it was a nice even round number. Now, let’s get to the fun part.

Why Do Servers Feel They Deserve Higher Percentages Now?

News flash. As waitstaff, you aren’t entitled to a tip if you don’t do a good job. It is part of your pay, but it is part of your pay for doing your job and doing it at least halfway decently. It is an incentive and you need to work for it.

I have no problem tipping the standard 15 to 20% for service that isn’t awful. In fact, I’ve only stiffed servers two or three times in my life and the stories from those encounters would shock most people.

The problem is, servers these days keep thinking they need a larger and larger tip. Twenty percent isn’t a great tip anymore it seems. In fact, I’ve heard servers complain if they don’t receive at least 20% for their tip. That’s absurd.

Why do servers think they deserve tips in excess of 20%? They say that things are getting more expensive and they need to make more money.

Unfortunately, most don’t realize the flaw in their logic. As things get more expensive, the meals at their restaurants also get more expensive so they are already getting a bigger tip.

After all, 20% of $20 is more than 20% of $10. Shocker, I know.

Tips For Servers That Want To Make More Money

I have a tip for servers who want to make more money in tips. Instead of continuing to work at the restaurant you’ve been working at for years, go out and get a better job that pays more. I’m not saying you should stop serving. Just consider the following ways to earn more.

Do you genuinely like serving? That’s great. Keep with it. Just find a way to increase the amount of your tables’ checks by selling them more food. That way, your 20% will be worth even more.

Want to know an even bigger secret that will make you more money? Instead of working at Applebee’s for the foreseeable future, try your best to increase your serving skills.

Once you’re an excellent server, go get a job at a nicer, more expensive restaurant. The bills will be larger there and your tips will be too.

So, what’s your take on tipping? Do you think we should be tipping more than 20% on a regular basis these days? Has tipping gotten out of control? Or am I just cheap? Let me know down in the comments.

Looking At Your Income And Expenses In A New Way

When people are considering making a major purchase, they usually look at it in terms of payments rather than total cost.

Usually, I prefer to look at the total cost to see how much money I’m really spending.

However, there is another way to look at your income and expenses besides using payments, total costs or monthly numbers.

This new way of looking at your income and expenses can be useful in some situations, like for controlling spending.

That said, the largest value to me of using this new method  is comparing your spending to your values.

Break Your Income And Expenses Down To Dollars Per Day

Breaking down your income and expenses to dollars per day is a relatively simple exercise if you already have a budget.

Take your monthly income or expenses and divide by 30 days for a month or divide by 14 for a biweekly budget. Yes, I know, not all months have 30 days but one or two days doesn’t make that big of a difference.

Once you’ve calculated how much your different budget items are per day, take a look at your list. Does anything look surprising?

Let’s go through a theoretical example of a couple without kids. I completely made all of these amounts up so I don’t want to hear any complaining about how inaccurate they are.

  • Income – $5,000/month – $166.67/day
  • Rent/Mortgage – $1200/month – $40.00/day
  • Car Payment 1 – $450/month – $15.00/day
  • Car Payment 2 – $300/month – $10.00/day
  • Car Insurance – $200/month – $6.67/day
  • Food – $600/month – $20.00/day
  • Gas – $250/month – $8.33/day
  • Cable/Internet – $150/month – $5.00/day
  • Cell Phones – $150/month – $5.00/day
  • Electric – $100/month – $3.33/day
  • Water/Sewer – $60/month – $2.00/day
  • Other Random Expenses – $150/month – $5.00/day
  • Fun Money – $200/month – $6.67/day

Based on this theoretical example here are some key takeaways I’d see.

I bet this couple didn’t realize that every day they pay two twenty dollar bills just to live in the house they’re living in. It is cheaper than a hotel and probably a lot nicer.

This couple spends $40.00 a day on their two cars which is just as much as they spend on their rent/mortgage. After all, cars are more than just the monthly payment. You have to include gas, insurance, maintenance and other costs, too.

Are your cars worth as much to you as your house is?

This couple might want some more spending money.

If so, they could almost double their fun money if they cancelled their cell phones or their cable/internet/home phone package. Alternatively, this theoretical couple could cut down on their food spending by not eating out as often.

Are their cell phones really worth as much to them as their home cable and internet? Do they need both? They could easily get cheaper cell phone service using Republic Wireless. Our phone bill is just $20 per month per line.

How awesome would it be if the couple wasn’t spending $25.00 a day on car payments? It is possible. They just have to keep their cars after they are paid off and save up and pay cash for their next cars.

The List Of Ideas Could Go On For Quite A While.

The big takeaway is that when numbers are larger, sometimes we lose perspective on how much things cost relative to each other. When it is broken down into smaller pieces sometimes it is easier to see the big picture.

If you want more reasonable numbers that are closer your budget I have a novel idea… do this exercise for your budget. You may be surprised at what you see.

Have you done this exercise before? Are you doing it now? Either way, were you surprised at any of your per day numbers? While I don’t expect anyone to list them below, general comments would provide some great insights.