Summary: These simple tips on how to save money at restaurants can keep thousands of dollars a year in your wallet.

Today, I thought I'd write about some more ways to Save Money. In the past I've written about how it is important to spend less than you earn, which lead to me writing about these high level tips on how to save money on almost anything. One of the items that I mentioned were the cost of "outings..." and the obvious example is the cost of going out to restaurants.

Save Money at Restaurants

Save Money at Restaurants

The average American spends thousands of dollars a year at restaurants. I've got nothing against restaurants. I'll be the first to admit that the food is generally better than I can make at home. However, I don't think it is that much better. I will say that my taste buds and sense of smell (which factor into taste) are, well, defective compared to most people's.

That said, I think for many people, there are ways to save money at restaurants. Here are some basic tips:

Avoid Restaurants

It shouldn't come as a surprise, the best way to avoid spending money at restaurants is to avoid restaurants. It is easier said than done. There are restaurants everywhere - and people need to eat. The combination of the two has made going out to eat an important social aspect of our lives. A lot of people don't go to restaurants for social reasons - they just want the convenience of a quick meal.

It's reasonable to fall for the social value eating out - a lot of people do. That said, it's worth suggesting an alternative such as a pot luck dinner. If your difficulty is in finding time, the answer is easy. You can make a few minor changes to your daily schedule and enjoy great quality food at a great price. I suggest you follow some of the tips in Be Better Now's Productivity category.

You want another reason to avoiding restaurants? It's often difficult to find nutritional information of the food (unless it is a large chain). If you are fortunate enough to find nutrition information, you'll quickly realize that it's next to impossible to maintain a healthy diet or lose weight, if that's your goal.

If you can't avoid restaurants the next best thing is to limit the damage to your wallet. So let's look at:

Top Ways to Save Money at Restaurants

  • Do Lunch Instead of Dinner - Lunch prices are typically significantly cheaper. Not only do you save money, but the portions are usually smaller and you are less likely to knock down a days worth of calories.
  • Save Half Your Meal for Leftovers - I sometimes ask for a take-out dish right away, so that I'm not tempted to eat the whole thing. This is another tip that's about health as much as it is about money. If a restaurant is going to give me 2,000 calories of food or more, I might as well space them out over a couple of days.
  • Split a Meal - Similar to above, the idea here is to split something with your companion. My wife and I do this regularly for lunches. She loves the salad and half sandwich. A half sandwich and fries (or steamed vegetables if I feel like being better) is enough for me. She orders the salad. I order the sandwich. I give her half with her salad. Sometimes a restaurant will charge a "split-plate fee." Some call this tacky, but I think you could just claim it's for portion control.
  • Cash in on your Seniority - If you are a senior citizen, you can often get a discount. You've earned it.
  • Skip the Alcohol - The margins that restaurants make on wine and other alcoholic beverages are tremendous. If you can save the drinks for home, you'll not only save money, but also avoid any nasty DUI incidents. Plus as John Ritter's character, Jack Tripper, on Three's Company agrees:
  • Look for Restaurants with No Corkage Fee - Bringing your own bottle of wine can lead to savings. If you find a restaurant that can't get an alcohol license it can lead to big savings. My wife and I found a pasta restaurant in western Massachusetts that allowed this. Cheap pasta and your own wine is a big win.
  • Take Advantage of Happy Hour - If you can't skip the alcohol and the corkage feeds are high, maybe you can get a half-price or 2-for-1 special during happy hour. They work equally well if your companion wants a drink too.
  • Cash in on the Early Bird Specials - There's a lot of money to be saved by dining at off-peak hours. This can also be nicely combined with the above tip about happy hour. Have a drink at the bar and bring it to your table. While on the topic of early bird specials I'm reminded of this great moment in Seinfeld history from the episode The Cadallac:

    "MORTY: Alright, are you ready to eat?

    HELEN: (glancing at her watch) Oh, right, let's go. Jerry, let's go, it's time
    to eat. We're going to dinner.

    Jerry wanders into the room. He's in a t-shirt and sweatpants, and holding a
    comic book he's been reading.

    JERRY: (confused) Dinner? W..What time is it?

    HELEN: (pulling on a coat) It's four-thirty.

    JERRY: (bewildered) Four-thirty? Who eats dinner at four-thirty?

    MORTY: By the time we sit down, it'll be quarter to five.

    JERRY: I don't understand why we have to eat now.

    HELEN: We gotta catch the early-bird. It's only between four-thirty and six.

    MORTY: Yeah. They give you a tenderloin, a salad and a baked potato, for
    four-ninety-five. You know what that cost you after six?

    JERRY: Can't we eat at a decent hour? I'll treat, okay?

    HELEN: You're not buying us dinner.

    JERRY: (emphatic) I'm not force-feeding myself a steak at four-thirty to save a
    coupla bucks, I'll tell you that!

    HELEN: Alright, (sitting on the couch) we'll wait. (pointedly) But it's unheard
    of."

    I'm with Morty and Helen. Grab that tenderloin, salad, potato for $4.95 (or whatever the incredible special price is). I'd probably aim to eat closer to 5:30, but other than that it sounds fantastic.

  • Eat on nights with "specials" - Many chains and even local restaurants offer incentives (i.e. good deals) during their slower nights of the week. You won't many specials on Friday or Saturday, but it's fairly common to find a good deal on Tuesdays (as one example).
  • Drink Water - Not only is water healthier than soda it's cheaper. In this case cheaper equals "free."
  • Use Coupons - There are a lot of coupons out there. Many of them offer a buy one get one free meal. You can sign up for Groupon and get free daily deals. You could also buy an Entertainment book an Entertainment Book full of coupons. You might also consider Restaurant.com a website where you can by vouchers for very cheap dinners (though they often come with restrictions).
  • Buy a Gift Card at a Reduced Rate - On Ebay you can often find people looking to get cash for their gift cards. With a quick search, you can save 10% or more.
  • Use a rewards credit card geared towards restaurants - If you can't find a gift card or don't have the time to wait for delivery, this is a good back-up. Some credit cards offer 3-5% or more cash back at restaurants. Some credit cards give you cash back at grocery stores or drug stores. You can take advantage by buying a gift card and using that for your bill.

With any and all the above tips, use your common sense. Don't try to split a meal with your boss. Have an alcoholic drink (if that's your thing) with a colleague. Don't pull out the coupons on the first date. In short, be smart and pick your spots.

Bonus Tip: Though it won't save you money, keep health in mind. Americans underestimate the calories in restaurant food by 642 calories (Official study by American Journal of Public Health)

A study in the found that unhealthy restaurant foods contain an average of 642 calories more than people estimate.

This post involves:

Money / Personal Finance, Save Money, Smart Spending

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I've been struggling with my productivity lately. When you build a website around a central tenant of being more productive this qualifies as A Very Bad Thing. I could go through the list of the list of excuses, but that's exactly what they are. Time to man up, admit that I wasn't living up to the expectations I set for myself, and be better...

Living the Video Game Life

Living the Video Game Life

It's easy enough to type that. Living it is a horse of a different color. What I need is a way to stay motivated and accountable. The first thought that came to my mind is that I should take a commitment contract out against myself. This would help ensure that I stick to my plan. I was in the process of doing just that when I realized that would have to quantify my productivity. (Remember "Measurable" from our SMART Goals).

Fortunately, I happen to have a handy tool to quantify my productivity. I can simply refer to my prioritized to-do list. Each day, I will keep track how many points I've completed in a spreadsheet. I could even run some statistics on the data and create some graphs. The possibilities are endless.

Rate My Life

All problems are solved, right? Well not exactly. As we all known life intervenes with work sometimes. Earlier this week, I had to take time off to do my taxes. On my conventional business to-do list, this would have scored low. On my, "I like to stay out of jail" to-do list, it ranked high. There are a lot of items like this. Walking my dog comes to mind immediately. Then there are the times where I take some extra time make a healthy meal. This lowers my productivity, but it is also a worthwhile trade off. The last thing that I want to do is to become a slave to my productivity charts and graphs.

I needed to do a little tweak. I created a spreadsheet for several areas that I want to be better in. Here's a representation of that spreadsheet:

CategoryMax ScoreToday's RatingToday's Score12345678931TotalAverage
Money1033
Health1033
Productivity1055
Social Good1022
Family / Fun1088
Totals21

The categories were ones that were just off the top of my head - most of them pulled from the goals of this site: Money, Health, Productivity, Social good, and Family / Fun. The idea here is to rate myself each day on this criteria. If I eat tons of fast food and don't exercise, I'm going to get a low health score. If go crazy and buy a bunch of tablet computers for every room in the house, I'm going to get a low score in the money category (and perhaps an increased score in the likelihood of getting divorced column that isn't present here). I don't think I need to explain each category... I trust you get the picture.

You may wonder why I have a Max Score, Today's Rating and Today's Score column. As I've explained it thus far, I could just put a number from 1 to 10 for each day of the month, and have the same result. Did you notice above that I said this graph was a representation of my spreadsheet? My actual spreadsheet is a lot more complex. I didn't want to melt your brains.

My Life as a Video Game

My spreadsheet breaks down categories into specific tasks. So walking the dog gets points in both family/fun and health. I have exercise and diet tasks in the health category. If I have the best workout, I can earn 10 points there. If I have an excellent diet, that's another 10 points. I often forget to floss, so I'm giving myself an extra point. What I have now is a Health Category with a Max Score of 21. If I put in above average workout (6) with above average diet (6) and floss (1), I will earn 13 of 21 possible points. When I skip the gym, I likely won't get out of the single digits. Thus my life as a video game is designed to score points. That may sound a bit a crazy, but it's quite sane in a world of where winning is living the Charlie Sheen life.

As long as I keep the system in balance, this seems like a great way to stay motivated throughout the day. Scoring points allows me to set measurable goals. Best of all, I can put a reward system in place. It may take a little negotiation with my wife, but I think I could talk her into agreeing to let me get one tablet computer if score enough points. I've been eying the HP TouchPad coming out this summer, we'll see if I get there.

Photo Credit: Raja Nicholas Fletcher

This post involves:

Mind, Motivation, Productivity / Organization

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When it comes number, I've been pretty lucky. I have always had a knack for remembering numbers. Names on the other hand... I've got a lot of work to do there. If you aren't quite as lucky or don't have a mind for numbers, all is not lost. You can learn to be better.

Research shows that most people can really only remember 5-8 numbers at a time. However, with the following tips you may be able to remember a lot more.

How To Remember Numbers

Was that 13 or 24?

  1. Chunk the numbers into groups - Memory experts recommend that one of the best ways to remember numbers is to chunk them into groups. For example it is easier to remember 27 than it is to remember a 2 and a 7. You may be find that 3 or even 4 digit chunks work for you.
  2. Associate the numbers with something familiar - If you a football fan, you may already do this. For me, as a big Patriots fan, I associate the number 54 with Tedy Bruschi. Number 12 is Tom Brady. For a long time I thought that filling my head with Roman Phifer's number 95 was just junk. Turns out that it can be useful.
  3. Ask the person to repeat the number - Asking the personal to repeat the number works for those people who are auditory learners .
  4. Repeat the number yourself - This helps me more with names than numbers, but I've heard others swear by this trick.
  5. Visualize the number - Picture the number in your head. Another trick people use are to associate the shapes of the letters with an image (like a doughnut for zero or a stick for one). I haven't had any luck with it though.
  6. Write the number down - Okay, so this last tip flies in the face of "remembering the number." Not entirely though. When you write the number you use your sense of touch and physical motor skills. There is no guarantee you won't lose the number, and this is a lot safer than mailing it to yourself.

I realize that some of these tips aren't exactly ground-breaking. Since it's Friday I thought it was best to ease into the weekend with a lighter post.

This post involves:

Be Better Now, Mind

... and focuses on:



Each month, I thought I'd give readers a sneak peak of some of the details that goes on behind the scenes at Be Better Now. As this is the first report, I expect it to be a bit of a litmus test. Your feedback is always appreciated.

Traffic Report

In future months, the traffic report will be much more exciting. However, in January I launched this site with no fanfare. I told no one it existed! I'm sure that sounds crazy. Why not promote the site? Be Better Now wasn't where I wanted it to be for a public launch. I want people to see a quality product that they feel comfortable coming back to. Even today Be Better Now isn't there... and might not be for months. If you are reading this, consider yourself as one of the lucky few who knew Be Better Now "way back when." For January, Be Better Now had 30 visits for 46 page views.

Charity Report

Each month, Be Better Now gives money to charity. In January, I chose to give to Best Buddies - Tom Brady's charity to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The donation was based on how many touchdown passes Tom Brady had in the post-season. Unfortunately, the New York Jets thwarted my plans to give away millions thousands hundreds of dollars, by ending the Patriots' season in one game. Tom Brady threw 2 touchdowns leading to an underwhelming donation of $20.

Diane Court

Ione Skye as Diane Court in Say Anything

However, somewhere along the way, life intervened to create a new charitable opportunity. As one my favorite fictional characters of all time, Diane Court of Say Anything, once said:

"I have this theory of convergence, that good things always happen with bad things. I know you have to deal with them at the same time, but I just don't know why they have to happen at the same time. I just wish I could work out some schedule. Am I just babbling? Do you know what I mean?"

My sister-in-law found a lost domesticated pit bull at the end of the month. He was a very friendly pit pull. If that sounds like an oxymoron please read this Malcolm Gladwell article before commenting. The problem with her discovery is that she has a pet rabbit. When you have a rabbit, you can't introduce a dog to the mix. She had to figure out what to do with the dog.

It turns out that there are few places that will take a pit bull (is anyone surprised?). This pit bull didn't have any identification and no micro-chipping. In short he was a great dog, but with a negligent owner. Thus the search for a home began. The shelter, with limited financial resources, said it had three days before... well, let's just say that our family rushed to find a home. We contacted a number of shelters, and posted on Craigslist to find the owner.

During the last day the owner came through to claim the dog via the Craigslist posting. "Skip" the pit bull was rescued! I look at it as a mini-cheer for technology and a macro-cheer for my wife and her sister-in-law who made it happen.

I'm going to invoke a theory of charitable convergence. I'm turning the Patriots loss to win with a donation to a Pit Bull Rescue organization that housed "Skip" until an owner could be found. In addition, I'm giving a much overdue donation to the foundation that award us with our dog, Jake - Pound Puppy Rescue. When our home became Jake's we donated money, but it's time to donate more.

Pit Bull Rescue and Pound Puppy Rescue will get $50 from Be Better Now... in addition to the Best Buddies donation.

Are you still doubting our focus to charity? Ye of little faith, I have one more donation to mention: Love Drop. Each month Be Better Now gives a VIP Membership donation of $20 to help Love Drop. Love Drop is a little like the A-Team - "if you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire receive from... Love Drop." Each month Love Drop adopts a family that needs a little help. This month, they are helping provide two children with autism a service dog. In case you didn't know the theme of the month is dogs.

This post involves:

Charity, Monthly Review

... and focuses on:



[Note: Like all my posts, this one comes from the gentleman's perspective. If you are a lady out there, perhaps you can subtly leave this post where your loved one might stumble upon it by accident ;-).]

Save Money Valentine's Day

Use these tips to save some green on Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is right around the corner. If you have a special person in your life, now is the time to start planning for the Day that Hallmark Built. (Disclaimer: I'm not sure Hallmark built Valentine's Day, but it seems like it sometimes). If you don't have that special someone, you could do what my wife did for years... rename it National Do Your Taxes Day. Yes, it's sad, but at least that story (luckily for me) has a happy ending.

One of things that I've learned over the years is that it doesn't make much sense to overspend on events like Valentine's Day. I think it's much more meaningful and spontaneous to celebrate the random May 21st or August 3rd with a small gift. Plus, a lot of the time, you get stuck with a bunch of things that are pretty overpriced for what they are. This time of year you can expect big mark-ups on flowers and chocolate. One of the central tenants of this website is to save money to give yourself the financial freedom for the life you want rather than the life that "pays the bills." With that in mind, here are some ideas on how to save money on Valentine's Day.

Stay in For Valentine's Day

It can be tough to pull off the "Let's stay in this year" conversation. It is my experience that women like to get dressed up and go out... and this is one of the premier nights to do just that. However, going out gets expensive. Dinner and movie can cost upwards of $200 in some places (wine isn't cheap sometimes). If you can win the battle to stay home, the dividends not only pay off in the wallet, but the journey to the bedroom is much quicker. What can you do to pull of the "stay at home" plan?

  • Make Her Breakfast in Bed - I'll admit that it can be tough to pull this off in the start the week. My wife is a pretty deep sleeper, so I've been able to execute the breakfast in bed in the past. It's worth the effort.
  • Make a Special Dinner - There are a lot of ways to make a special dinner. You know her favorite foods, right? That's a good place to start. You can order some heart-shaped pasta online. Pair that with a white wine sauce recipe and you are in good shape. Don't forget the dessert wine with dark chocolate. The whole dinner may run you under $30... or a little more if you opt for seafood and more expensive wine.
  • Cue up a Movie - This is a good time to set up that Netflix queue. Look at what she's added and bump up a romantic option to the top. If your dinner is good enough, you might be able to pull off a romantic sports movie like For the Love of the Game. (Just go in with the mindset that you are watching a "chick flick", but with bonus sports footage.)
  • Cue up Music and Dance - Comcast has some music channels that are romantic and require no advanced planning. I like the Singers and Swing (channel 938), myself. However, feel free to go an extra mile and make a mix with iTunes or your smart phone. I'm going to skip that plan, as I'd probably just put Paramore's The Only Exception on repeat. (Take a minute to watch the video, especially the ending, and sing with me "I'm on the way to believing.")
  • Massage Oils and Candles - You've done the dinner. You've done the desert and wine. You've done the movie... or if your lucky only a small part of the movie. You probably don't need massage oils at this point, but it can't hurt.

Get out of the House

All is not lost if you didn't with the "Let's stay home" conversation. One of my favorite tips is to relocate the celebration of the Valentine's Day to a day on the nearest weekend. Who wouldn't want to a full day to enjoy the holiday instead of spending half at work, right? In addition to that, I usually try to earn extra points by surprising her with some kind of comfort food take-out that we like for the 14th itself.

When you move Valentine's Day to the weekend, you open up more options (including the breakfast in bed mentioned above):

  • Go for a Picnic - If you live in a warm climate, planning a picnic is almost always a winner. This year, most of you can scratch that idea.
  • Go to a Museum - Museums are typically the same price year round and they aren't nearly as crowded as movies.
  • Take a Stroll Down Memory Lane - Literally. Take her to places where you had your first kiss or went on a first date. Just be careful with this, because when it happens on those diamond commercials, it always ends in a proposal.
  • Create an Adventure - If you have some time you can plan a treasure hunt in the style of Midnight Madness. (Don't feel bad if you didn't see it, I think my wife and I are the only two people in the world who have).

Give the Frugal, High Value Gift

At the risk of sounding corny and cheesy, there are a lot of inexpensive gifts you can give. Here are some ideas to help you with that.

  • Give a Coupon Book - Make a book of coupons of favors that you'll do. This could range from chores to massages. (Bonus Tip) You might want to start with doing a few chores right away. Studies show that women like men who do housework.
  • Write a Love Note - This may sound difficult if you aren't the creative type. However, this is another reason why you should hone your writing skills. Look to the internet for advice on how to go about it, here's some from a female romance reader.
  • Exchange Small Practical Gifts - My wife and I keep our Amazon Wishlist updated throughout the year. Usually we have a few of these small practical gifts on the list. For example, I'm heavily considering putting the Wrap-a-nap on there. I showed it to my wife and she thought it looked pretty cool

Finally, since we are trying to be better, why not donate some money to charity? You can't go wrong by giving money to breast cancer. What tips you do you have for planning a frugal Valentine's Day? Let me know in the comments.

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk

This post involves:

Money / Personal Finance, Save Money, Smart Spending

... and focuses on:

,



Summary: Learn how to make more money from your main job or a second job, how to starting your own business, and how to create passive income.

We recently covered Spend Less Than You Earn. In it we established there were two ways to get rich - make more money or spend less money. Last week, I wrote about How To Save Money, which brings us to today's post: How to Make More Money.

Make More Money

Making more money isn't a magic trick

Earn More Money in Your Career

Perhaps the most obvious way to make more money is to look at your main source of income and looking to see if that can be increased. For most of you out there, that would be the 9-to-5 career.

  • Make yourself more valuable to your company - If you can find a way to be more productive at work, you can take on extra responsibilities. When you take on more responsibilities you can make a much better case for a raise.
  • How and when to ask for a raise - I've made the mistake of asking for a raise when business wasn't the best.
  • Get a raise by switching jobs - Get out of that dead-end job. Most places don't evaluate raises based on performance entirely - many times they feel that if they are giving a "good raise" you should be happy... even if you are worth a lot more.
  • Get ahead with an advanced degree - An advanced degree isn't a guarantee to more income, but for the right professions it can push you into another salary tier. It can also help if you are switching jobs.

Get a Second Job

I know a lot of you out there are thinking that the last they need is more work. I'm with you on this one. However, there are times where it just makes sense. I have a friend who is a great freelance cartoonist/artist. Some years back, I was at an amusement park, when I recognized some of his art was featured. Being an artist wasn't his only gig, though, he also worked at a local bar at night. It got him out of the house, put some guaranteed cash in his wallet, and provided some much-needed health insurance benefits.

Another friend of mine, because a seasonal tax advisor for H&R Block. She's really good with numbers and enjoys numbers (we have that in common). She earned money aside from her day job, and gained valuable training on how to do her own taxes for free.

Start a Business

Did this elicit another groan from all of you? Starting a business can be a lot of work. I live in Silicon Valley where businesses are started every day, and the people starting them work 16 hour days. If that's the kind of thing that excites you, I'm cool with that. Feel free to donate me some stock options. However, if you'd like a more balanced lifestyle there are still some options available.

One idea for a starting a business is to get money from your hobbies. For example, if you are into crafts, you can sell them on Etsy. You get the fun of creating the craft, the joy of knowing that you made someone's day, and made a little money in the process.

Need another tip? How about a dog walking or sitting service. Around here in Silicon Valley, overnight dog sitters are $40-50 a night. If some enterprising and trustworthy person offered to take my dog for $200 for a week while we were on vacation, it would be a big savings for us. We just need to find that person. You could be that person, take my money, and have a week with a lovable dog (you should really be paying me money).

Create Passive Income

Finally a cheer (I hope)? Who doesn't love passive income? Getting money for doing nothing? What's not to like, right? Unfortunately it can be very difficult to find passive income sources. If you are really good with a guitar perhaps you can write a song. If you can get it on the radio, you'll earn some royalties. You can do the same if you are an actor. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to make it as a musician or actor. There is only so much room on the airwaves.

I found success with blogging. While some say that I have a talent for blogging, I didn't start out with it. It took a lot of trial and error to learn how to write interesting posts. Beyond that though, I got lucky. I fell in with the right crowd and we pushed each other and shared tips. It would be a stretch to call blogging passive income. While I do have the freedom to go to Australia for a month and still make money, I have to bust my hump, to not only write articles, but market them, and monetize them.

One of the best ways to create passive income is through investing. You can buy stocks that pay dividends. You can buy businesses such as a Subway franchise. You can buy an apartment building and be a landlord. The downside to all these is that you have to have money to make money. The Subway franchise and the apartment building don't run themselves.

Putting it All Together

It's very unlikely that anyone other than rich, old uncle Bob is just going to give you money. Like anything else, it is something you are going to have to work at. For some people it will come easier than others.

Even if you are having trouble making extra money, take a lesson from The Christmas Carol. The Tiny Tim's of the world are often more happy than the Ebenezer Scrooges.

This post involves:

Income, Make Money, Money / Personal Finance

... and focuses on:



Summary: Choosing Firefox sparked browser innovation that makes many people much more productive than ever. Your technology today choice may impact future generations.

Today, I'd like to tell you why I choose to use Firefox as my browser. It isn't the most popular option. Most people stick with either Internet Explorer (IE) as the default or have moved onto Google's Chrome. When I take a road less traveled as I do with Firefox, I feel I owe an explanation why - especially when the browser plays a large role in my productivity. To really understand why, I have to give you a little historical account (I'll keep it brief).

Firefox

The History of Firefox

I've been using Netscape since it came out. When Microsoft very nearly kill it off by pouring money into Internet Explorer and bundling it with Windows, I was one of the few people hanging on to Netscape. I didn't want to see Microsoft get control of how people use the Internet. They already controlled the office software and operating systems markets. I don't feel it's healthy for one company to have all that power - lack of competition stalls innovation. Netscape went through a dark period and all my friends pleaded with me to just give in and switch to Internet Explorer. I didn't. Netscape released their code to the Mozilla foundation and their first application sweet was simple called Mozilla. People wanted a simple light-weight browser and that gave birth to Firebird... which gave birth to the Firefox.

During the time that time, Microsoft largely stopped developing Internet Explorer. Since IE had around 95% of the market, it only made sense that Microsoft declared victory and reallocated their resources. However, as people started to use Firefox, they realized it was much, much better than what IE was. There were a lot of new features like easy plugins and tabbed browsing that made people more productive. Firefox grew in popularity. It got to the point where Microsoft realized they had to put resources back in IE to keep it competitive.

The result of this healthy competition was rapid innovation in the browser software - and we all benefited greatly. Since it happened gradually there wasn't much of a parade and no one jumped out of cake. Nonetheless, there was reason to celebrate.

Google Chrome advances the Browser Landscape

Hot on the heels of Firefox's success, Google brought their Chrome browser to the market. Say what you want about Google, but if they feel they can improve on something, they will do it. They took a lot of the ideas in Firefox and added in a few improvements. Most technology experts agree that Chrome is the best browser out there. Their arguments for why Chrome is superior are quite sound, but the improvements are minimal.

If you aren't asking, "Why haven't you switched to Chrome?" you should be. I do have Chrome installed on my computer. I've been known to fire it up on occasion. However, I don't see what it can do that Firefox can't. I don't notice any faster performance with Chrome. I don't see any features in Chrome that would make me more productive. In fact, the process of switching from Firefox and the plugins that I enjoy, would make me less productive... at least until I became very familiar with Chrome.

The biggest reason why I don't use Chrome is because it is managed by Google. I have nothing against Google. I use a lot of their services such as Google Search, Gmail, Google Maps, and Google Calendar. Those services are far better in my opinion that what anyone else offers. However, when it comes to browsers, all the competitors are on nearly equal ground. With all else being nearly equal, I'd rather support the non-profit Mozilla Foundation than put more power in the hands of Google. I'm pretty loyal to Mozilla and Firefox for bringing a new world of innovation to the browser. I think they've earned that loyalty.

Extending the Firefox Lesson to Mobile Operating Systems

Beyond that, I consider diversifying my technology portfolio to be smart business not just for myself, but hopefully for consumers in the future. This expands to my choice of cell phones as well. In a lot of ways, Apple's iOS reminds me of Microsoft and Internet Explorer. It had similar market-share. Apple has shown that they intend to control the ecosystem of their application store very tightly, sometimes eliminating applications that users want. Google's Android has caught up to Apple in market-share and has leveled the playing field. A third company, HP, through their purchase of Palm, has taken the equally impressive webOS operating system and gave it the financial backing to compete with iOS and Android. It seems like webOS is better geared towards the future with its focus on web technologies and it's great multitasking interface. I think the mobile OS space is better off having three competitors. I view supporting HP webOS as the best way to diversify my technology portfolio.

That's a fight for a different day. For now, I suggest you go download Firefox today.

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Browsers, Firefox, Internet, Technology

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Most people know that one of the keys to losing weight is simply to eat less. If you weren't reading carefully, you may have missed I slipped a word in there... simply. For most people, there's really nothing simple to weight loss. This is one of the cases where knowing what to do is only 20% of the battle. It's extremely tough to stay on the wagon. With that in mind here are some tips to help you eat less to lose weight:

  • Volumetrics - I used to dismiss this phenomenon as another diet fad. However, one day I looked in my cupboard and saw some microwave popcorn next to a can of peanuts. I realized that I could either have a bag of popcorn, a little less than the size of my head, and only consume 100 calories... or I could go through the 2 ounces of peanuts in about a minute consuming 330 calories.
  • Drink Water - Water takes up space in the stomach. I try to have a big glass of water before I even start a meal. This way I've already occupied some stomach space with zero calories.
  • Eat Slower - Studies show that it cons the brain 10 minutes to register that it is getting full. By eating slower, you give more time for these signals to be sent. Going back to the bag of popcorn verses the already shelled peanuts, the popcorn takes longer to eat and thus makes me fuller.
  • Imagine Eating More - If you just think you are eating more, you may trick your body... at least according to this study.
  • Smaller Plates I - With smaller plates you aren't going to be able to physically pack as much food on them.
  • Smaller Plates II - Deja vu? Yep. Follow me for a minute on this one. Which one of the orange dots is bigger?

    mond vergleich illusion

    You may be familiar with the optical illusion and answered that they are both the same size. If so, score yourself a point. Now think of the gray circles as the size of the plate. See... same amount orange dot food. On a larger plate you think you're not getting enough, but on a smaller plate your mind believes it's getting more to eat than it is.

  • Meal Measure Portion Control Tool - This plastic mold fits to your plates (unless you are using small ones as recommended above) to help you measure your portions.

You can combine one or more of these tips to supercharge weight loss goals.

Image Credit: Daily Cognition

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Diet

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Summary: Knowing how to save money on all your purchases can help you buy the important things... even if it's financial freedom or early retirement.

Last week, I wrote about Spending Less Than You Earn, and how there are two components to that... spending less money and making more money. I'd like to dive in a little deeper into the area of saving money today.

When I think about how to save money, I look at my spending in five areas: big one-time purchases, small daily purchases, recurring monthly expenses, and the medium cost splurges, and outings. Today, I'd like to touch on how these five categories impact your overall financial picture.

Big One-Time Purchases

Save Money on a House

Save Money on a House

It's hard to downplay how much shelter costs. Even if you are renting and not buying, your home is likely to represent a large chunk of your spending. There are a lot of ways to save on a home, such as living in an area with a cheaper cost of living and having a smaller home. Here are some more tips on how to save money on housing.

For most people, the other big purchase aside from a home is a car. It isn't unusual for a car payment to be up to ten percent of a person's take home salary. A couple of ways to reduce that is to buy a cheaper, used, brand that has already depreciated in value. A three year old Hyundai is going be a lot cheaper than a new BMW. As with anything, you often get what you pay for so don't expect the Hyundai to compete with the BMW, but going with the used Hyundai is a good start towards saving money.

Cars and homes can add up to 40% (or more) of many people's income, saving money on them can get you started on the path to financial freedom. Here's one final tip to save money on these: have good credit. These purchases are often done by taking out loans. You want to pay as little as interest as possible and having good credit allows you to do just that. A person with bad credit pays more for the exact same thing... and that earns them a nomination for the Be Worse Now Hall of Shame.

Small Daily Purchases

David Bach's famous Latte Factor looks at how people can get rich just by reducing or eliminating small daily expenses. Of course the key example of a small daily purchase is... wait for it... the morning latte. It may not seem like much, but $3 a day adds up over time. If you make your own coffee at home and bring your lunch to work that can be a savings of $10 a day or around $3500 a year. Investing $3500 a year goes a long way towards any financial freedom goal. With the power of compound interest it may be enough to fund a retirement.

Recurring Monthly Expenses

Much like the small daily purchases, these add up over time. Some monthly expenses like utilities are pretty hard to escape - although you can certainly do a lot to lower those costs. I like to call these necessary expenses. They are good in that they typically help keep you alive. There are also the unnecessary monthly expenses like cable television, Netflix, or a wine club can add up over time. I'm not going to ask you to give up your entertainment, but reducing and eliminating these costs will fast track you to financial freedom (are you seeing a trend here yet?).

Somewhere in the middle of the necessary and the unnecessary sits the Internet connection. I require it for my business, so it is necessary just like transportation to a job, but I also get a lot of entertainment from it. That's why it is one of the last things that I'd look to eliminate.

Medium Cost Splurges

This is where I group the "everything else" that I spend money on. I, like many people, really enjoy technology gadgets. So this means that I have to have the latest smartphone every year or so. In addition, there are costs for video game systems, new laptops, tablet computers, etc. This isn't to say that you should avoid all these things - I think you simply need to be consciously aware of these expenses. A few hundred dollars here and there really crowd that credit card statement. I've started to look for cheaper ways to get gadgets such as buying a used previous generation version on craigslist.

Outings (Entertainment)

The last area that seems to eat up money is what I like to call the "outings" category. Some example "outings" include going to a restaurant, going to a concert, or going to a bar with friends. A few outings per month can add up to a couple hundred dollars very quickly. These tips for saving money at restaurants may save you a thousand dollars a year.

It's all a game of balance. I'm not suggesting that you avoid buying your dream home, a nice car, or a tablet computer. I'm not trying to ruin all your fun. I enjoy concerts, sporting events, and the theater (well let's not stretch it) as much as anyone. I'm asking that you be conscious of your spending and think about what your goals are with money. For me, having a safety net that allows me to go a year without working and building towards an extremely early retirement are top priorities.

Photo Credit: Apartment Therapy

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If you are anything like me, you can't get to the bottom of your to-do list. It's one of the reasons I created this blog. What can I say? I'm just a boy who cain't say no. I'm going to leave "learning to say no" for another day, but today, I'd like to talk about to-do lists and getting the right things on it done.

A decade ago, I worked for a top 20 Internet company managing one of its most profitable properties: Search. It was a lot of pressure for me at 24 years old. Fortunately, the Vice President of Content had a lot of confidence in my abilities and we really clicked. It wasn't too long after we started working together that we came across the problem that everyone encounters at one point or another. The VP had a bunch of things he wanted to accomplish and I was just one engineer. With limited time and resources, something had to give.

To-Do List - Get Things Done

Using a To-Do List to Get Things Done

I suggested that we try something very different. I told him to make a list of all the tasks that need to get done. Separately we tackled that list in a couple of different ways. I went through and estimated how easy the task was to accomplish. He gave each task on the list a score based on how important it was to the business. We each used a 10 point scale - 10 was "easy" on mine and 10 was "very important" on his. Then we simply multiplied our scores and sorted on the result in descending order. The bottom 30% of the list got tabled indefinitely as not worth the effort. The easy stuff with the big impact to the business bubbled up to the top 30% of the list. In a few days, I implemented all these features and the bosses were really happy with what we accomplished. The middle 40% took me another month, but it was a quiet month as the bosses moved on to torture harass supervise other projects.

Recently I was reading Never Check E-Mail In the Morning and Julie Morgenstern suggested a similar thing.

I decided to resurrect that idea, incorporate it with the ideas from the book and came up with a new way of managing my to-do list. As I've found in the past, Excel (or spreadsheet equivalent) is the right tool for the job.

Here is a snapshot of what it looks like:

TaskCategoryRevenue RelevanceTime to CompleteROIDeadlineValueNotes:
Collect money from TonyFinances88995184
Read Erica.biz' Guest Post SecretsPromotion66761512
Write PostsProduct Development9296972
Update Ad Sales BooksFinances2685480
Guest Post for Get Rich SlowlyPromotion5295450
Add My Photo to ThemePromotion2863288
Ask others about possible Guest Post openingsPromotion2972252
Find a Twitter list of Productive BloggersPromotion2952180
Create a Facebook PagePromotion2752140

My metrics are:

  • Revenue Relevance - It's hard to downplay the actual money factor.
  • Time to Complete - My original idea of quantifying how hard something is.
  • ROI - This is the impact to the rest of the business. A guest post isn't going to directly bring in revenue, but it is very important to the growth of the business.
  • Deadline - This is another tip from Morgenstern. In the blogging business there are few deadlines. However, in this case, I really need to complete the paperwork to get the money from Tony sooner rather than later.

You'll notice I have a couple of other columns as well. I like to have a Category column to sort by. This way, if I feel like my business is in need of promotion, I can work on that. If I start seeing a number of finance tasks piling up, I can focus on those even if those other categories may technically be more important. You'll also notice a Notes column. In this case I didn't add any particular notes, but often I have notes. For example, if I had an outline of what to write for my guest post on Get Rich Slowly, I would put it here.

In Never Check E-Mail In the Morning, Morgenstern suggested that the impact to the company's revenue should be the metric for "important to the business." At the time I was reading the book, it made sense, but in applying it to my business, I started to disagree. I'm keeping it in my spreadsheet for now, but I'm thinking of combining the ROI and the Revenue into the same column like I did 10 years ago. This means tasks with big revenue impact would just have a big a ROI impact as well. One of the problems I have with the focus on revenue is that it would push necessary evils like security of my web server towards the bottom. It may not seem relevant to your revenue until there's an emergency - and that's often the worst time to deal with it.

I should also emphasize that this is my business to-do list. I've thought about shoehorning personal tasks into it, but I don't see how it would work. It seems like comparing the business impact of doing laundry can't (and shouldn't) be compared to writing blog posts. Laundry would almost always lose out unless it started to really pile up and I'm working on a more general one.

Photo Credit: Richard Dingwall

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Productivity / Organization, To-Do

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